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Pitino's Gophers: Soon to be hottest power conference team in basketball?

– The Gophers woke up Thursday as one of the hottest teams in men’s college basketball, with six consecutive victories after their 89-75 victory at No. 24 Maryland on Wednesday.

That winning streak is tied with Big Ten leader Purdue for the second-longest active win streak among major conference teams. Duke and Villanova both had seven-game win streaks end Wednesday night.

Florida has won nine in a row, but it plays Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats have five consecutive wins. Purdue plays at Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines are dangerous at home having blown out Indiana and Michigan State.

So there’s a chance Minnesota (21-7, 9-6 Big Ten) could be the hottest big-conference team — if it handles Penn State (14-14, 6-9) on Saturday at home.

This is the longest conference win streak for the Gophers since the 1996-97 Final Four season, when they won 12 in a row. Because that season has since been vacated, you have to go back to 1977-78, a team led by Kevin McHale and Mychal Thompson. That squad won seven in a row to finish second in the Big Ten.

Hot guards

Richard Pitino had so many hot hands in Wednesday’s second half, he had to sit guys who couldn’t miss. He left in Dupree McBrayer, who finished with 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. “I just went with the hot hand,” Pitino said. “But Akeem [Springs] was terrific as well.”

Springs scored 10 of his 16 points in the first half, and he played only 18 minutes.

“Akeem came out on fire,” McBrayer said. “I thought he was going to get 30. Akeem told me ... ‘Come in and be confident.’ That’s what I did. He came back in and got [hot], and then I got on fire. That’s kind of like taking turns.”

Minnesota’s four guards combined for 64 points. Nate Mason scored 10 of his 17 points in the first half, while Amir Coffey scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

Coach: We’re in

Big Ten Network cameras were in the locker room as Pitino addressed his team after the victory — one that all but clinched the Gophers’ spot in the NCAA tournament. In Pitino’s mind, it’s no longer a question.

“No more talk about [making the] NCAA tournament,” he said. “We’re talking about seeds in the NCAA tournament.”

 

Postgame: Gophers guards dominate in sixth straight victory

COLLEGE PARK, M.D. – Richard Pitino had so many hot hands in the second half in the Gophers’ 89-75 victory Wednesday night, that for the first time he had to sit guys who couldn’t miss.

Pitino decided to leave in Dupree McBrayer, who finished with 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half. Akeem Springs ended up with 10 of his 16 points in the first half in just 18 minutes.

“More than anything, I wanted to get (Springs) in,” Pitino said. “But Dupree was playing really well. I just went with the hot hand. But Akeem was terrific as well.”

Minnesota’s four guards combined for 64 points on Wednesday night, which included outscoring Maryland’s starters 46-27.

Nate Mason had 10 of his 17 points in the first half, while Amir Coffey scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half.

McBrayer said Springs wasn’t frustrated with limited minutes. He cheered on his teammates and gave McBrayer a little pep talk in the second half.

“Akeem came out on fire,” McBrayer said. “I thought he was going to get 30. Akeem told me as a leader, that’s one of my close friends. He just said, ‘Come in and be confident.’ That’s what I did. He came back in and got (hot), and then I got on fire. That’s kind of like taking turns.”

This was the balanced offensive attack that Pitino envisioned when he thought before the season this would be his most talented team in four years.

The Gophers looked offensively challenged at times during an earlier five-game losing streak, but they showed their potential Wednesday night in the sixth straight win.

“You’re quicker when you’re playing better,” Pitino joked. “I do think if you looked at us now versus then, we’re much more confident. We’re tougher. We were not a very confident group (in Jan. 28 loss) versus Maryland.”

Maryland’s Melo Trimble, who scored 32 and 27 points last week against Northwestern and Wisconsin, was held to just 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting. Justin Jackson and Kevin Huerter, who combined for 47 points on 10 three-pointers in 75-68 win at Minnesota, were held to just 15 points combined on 6-for-20 shooting Wednesday.

The Terrapins shot just 7-for-27 from three-point range, including 3-for-15 from their starting guards.

“That’s doing a good job of scouting and simulating what they do in practice,” McBrayer said. “We were doing it as many times as we could, to make sure it was perfect for when game time comes.”

HOMECOMING: Mason, who didn’t move to Georgia until he was 7, grew up in nearby Baltimore. So he said there were 70 members of his family in attendance at the XFINITY Center Wednesday night.

 “It was a great atmosphere here,” Mason said. “All my family was here. So it was good to come back home and play in front of my family. It’s special. It’s very special, because they really don’t get to come out to Minnesota that much.”

The Golden Dunkers booster club also had 12 members make the trip, wearing “Dunker Dozen” T-shirts sitting behind the bench. Pitino was given one of their shirts during an afternoon practice before the game.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on MLBN, 96.3-FM

  • Penn State at Gophers men's basketball

    2 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Bemidji State at Gophers women's hockey

    4:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN PLUS, 1500-AM

  • Timberwolves at Houston

    8 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Gophers women's basketball at Maryland

    11 am on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Minnesota United FC vs. San Antonio

    11:30 am

  • Washington at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Bemidji State at Gophers women's hockey (if nec.)

    4:07 pm

  • Miami at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Los Angeles at Wild

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Sacramento

    9:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Wild at Winnipeg

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Pittsburgh at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Utah

    8 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Wild at Columbus

    6 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Philadelphia (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Gophers men's hockey at Michigan

    5:30 pm on ESPNEWS, 1500-AM

  • Minnesota United FC at Portland

    8:30 pm on FS1

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