This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Gophers' next challenge: Staying focused

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: December 7, 2013 - 12:39 PM

Today's game vs. New Orleans tips at 2 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN3. Listen on the radio with 1500-a.m.

After the biggest stretch of the season, the Gophers move from the Maui Invitational and Florida State to a stretch that features just three games in 21 days, starting today at Williams Arena.

The slate, which begins with New Orleans today, superficially looks like the easiest stretch of the year this far, with games against South Dakota State and Nebraska-Omaha after matchups against the likes of Syracuse and FSU.

But the key, coach Richard Pitino said, will be for the team to remain focused in the midst of such a flimsy schedule.

“We’re kind of approaching – and I know it sounds funny – a difficult time for us over the next month, just because there are a lot of challenges,” Pitino said. “You have an emotional game against Florida State at home, certainly a very good opponent, great program. And then you’ve got finals coming up, you’ve got a long time between each game, no big name opponents, doesn’t mean we can’t lose these games, and certainly can. But mentally, more than anything, we’ve got to have the right mindset going in to tomorrow as well as for the rest of the month.

“We could certainly lose to anybody, I think we showed that with Chaminade, we were down 9 at the half.”

The Gophers were able to maintain focus in similar situations this year, like against Wofford with Maui on the horizon, and – eventually – against Chaminade despite the disappointment of playing in the 7th/8th place game. But this, Pitino said, is a little different because the Gophers just experienced the season’s current high.

“People are pumping you up,” the coach said. “When they see the players on campus, I’m sure they’re giving them a little bit more love than what they normally get. We’ve got to embrace the underdog mentality, we cannot have any ego whatever.

“It’s an emotional roller coaster a little bit, you go from Florida State, big game and now you come home and I think it’s big for us to kind of keep that kind of humble and hungry mentality and just focus on the overall goal.”

Pitino reiterated that point in the postgame edit, which the team does after every game.

They call it “good and bad.”

After Tuesday’s game, Pitino and the rest of the staff picked out 25 “bad” – highlighted by an ugly shot Malik Smith took in the first half – and 22 “good” clips.

“That’s a lot, certainly – 25 things you can learn from and we probably took a couple off,” Pitino said. “We could show them 30-35 things. We have by no means arrived. We had a good win, we did some very good things against Florida State, but we definitely have a lot to improve on as well.”

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