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Gophers postgame: Ugly wins are still wins

Read my full story on Minnesota’s 93-90 win over Nebraska Omaha here.

Three observations before I head out in the frigid, un-Puerto Rico- like temps:

Winning ugly. When I asked senior forward Joey King tonight what it would take for the Gophers to take the next step and get out of this close-win, close-loss territory and onto firmer ground, he shrugged. “This is kind of a young team,” he said. “We’re going to win ugly sometimes and we recognize that.” He’s got a point. Will this team get to the point where they’re blowing out other teams – even less talented teams? That might not be realistic. From the Gophers’ perspective, any game they can gut out or steal is a big victory. And certainly, today’s win can be viewed as a steal. Omaha was impressive, scrappy, refusing to fall back at any point in the game. Omaha big man Jake White was tough, inside and out, and if he hadn’t fouled out with two minutes to go, it might have been a different story. That Minnesota was in such high spirits after this one says a lot. This year is going to serve as a sort of in-between. Whatever the Gophers can put away, they’ll be happy with.

Having an inside game helps. For the first time tonight, Minnesota looked like it had an interior offensive presence. Center Bakary Konate (career-high 14 points, 10 rebounds), continuing to improve after missing over a month with a foot injury, giving us glimpses into what his future could look like: fighting for rebounds, putting his head down and turning hard into the basket, finishing at the rim, blocking shots. He’s still getting in shape from missing so much time – Pitino said Konate asked for a sub twice, out of breath – but Friday was a good sign. Freshman Jordan Murphy (career-high 14 points) had his best game too, going hard at the basket and sporting the kind of aggressiveness and energy that is elusive from him at times. With the Gophers also hitting 11 three-pointers, it was a good balance, and would have put them in better position throughout had Omaha not been so efficient offensively.

Pitino will send messages, even at the team’s expense. Carlos Morris had an ugly live-ball turnover in the first minute of the first half and after coming out immediately, rode the pine for the next 11-plus minutes. Morris is prone to mind-boggling mistakes and bad shots, but he’s also one of the team’s best natural scorers at this juncture, and his absence was felt during a stretch where Omaha controlled. Pitino has remarked that the bench is the “greatest motivator” but sometimes that motivation can come with a cost if he does it too much down the road, particularly with senior captains. The message though? Received. “That was definitely a long sit for me,” Morris said. “And I kind of woke up from that.

Omaha will test Minnesota's penchant for fouling with fast pace

Ready my story on Minnesota’s early penchant for fouling, here.

Previewing the Gophers and Nebraska  Omaha, here.

News and notes from Wednesday’s media access with coach Richard Pitino, here.

Three things to watch as Minnesota returns home, attempting to get back on track.

Pace. Through five games, Nebraska Omaha is playing at the third fastest pace in Division I college basketball. The Mavericks have reached at least 75 possessions in all of their games, and three games have boasted possessions in the 80s. It will be interesting to see how Minnesota handles such a uptempo attack because the Gophers haven’t reached 75 possessions in any of the games they’ve played so far this season. And they’ve been extremely foul prone, particularly on drives, which is most of Omaha’s game. “They want to score in the first 12, 15 seconds,” Pitino said of Omaha on Wednesday commenting on the close loss to Colorado on Sunday. “They had Colorado beat, they must have been winning for most of the game and then Colorado kind of made a run the last couple of minutes.”

Jake White. The senior forward from Chaska didn’t get the chance to face his home-state school last time Omaha was in town, in 2013, because he was redshirting after transferring from Wichita State per NCAA rules. This year, he should more than welcome the opportunity as he’s appeared ready to take his game to the next level early. White, who was part of Wichita State's Final Four run in 2013, has totaled 58 points in his last three games, including 25 points vs. Northern Colorado on Wednesday, a new season high. He went 8-for-11 from the field in that game and 9-for-9 from the free-throw line. He also has turned the ball over just three times in five games.

The fundamentals. In the last five games, we’ve watched Minnesota sport an inconsistent defense and the Gophers struggle to rebound, share the ball efficiently, not turn it over and not foul. The team is young and inexperienced, which means it’s not surprisingly to see hiccups in some of the little things early. But the 2015-16 Gophers will be in trouble if they don’t get at least some of those shortcomings shored up soon. Pitino scheduled an extra practice on Tuesday morning just to work on the basics. Will any of that additional work show Friday vs. Omaha? Minnesota could use a statement game.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Gophers women's hockey at MSU Mankato

    2:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers football

    2:30 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's basketball vs. Auburn

    6 pm on 1500-AM

  • Dallas at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Vikings at Atlanta

    12 pm on Ch. 9, 100.3/1130

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Clippers

    2:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • St. Cloud State at Gophers men's hockey

    6:35 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

  • Clemson at Gophers men's basketball

    8 pm on ESPN2, 1500-AM

  • Orlando at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Chicago

    7 pm on NBCSN, 100.3-FM

  • Toronto at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Ohio State at Gophers men's hockey

    7 pm on FSN, 1500-AM

How will the Gophers and Vikings do this weekend?

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