Mathieu, Smith not shy about taking big shots for Gophers basketball

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2013 - 8:28 AM

DeAndre Mathieu and Malik Smith have shown they don’t back down in important situations.

hide

Malik Smith was the second-leading scorer at Florida International last season (14.1 ppg).

Photo: Ann Heisenfelt • Associated Press,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

Malik Smith and DeAndre Mathieu. Roommates. Masters of confidence. “Madden 25” experts extraordinaire. Two basketball players who were told they couldn’t play major college ball out of high school.

And two of the most exciting players the Gophers have to offer.

In the last two months, the guards have gone from virtual unknowns to major contributors, helping boost the Gophers to a 10-2 start heading into Saturday’s nonconference finale against Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The two made the difference in the Gophers’ previous game, a 92-79 victory over Nebraska Omaha last Saturday, combining for 27 of their team’s final 31 points. Both finished with the highest scoring totals of their careers here, with Mathieu scoring 27 points and Smith 19.

While the scoring totals were unusual, the method was not. All season long, the two have ignited teammates and fans with their lionhearted approach to the game. Coach Richard Pitino badly wanted Smith to follow him from Florida International, in large part because of the senior’s confidence and ability to perform under pressure at a high level. The 5-foot-9 Mathieu, meanwhile, has showed an impressive aptitude for driving “through the trees” to the basket, as he has said, and finishing at the rim.

“Those two guys on this team, they’re fearless when they go out there,” Pitino said. “Those are the two guys — if you said who had off-the-charts confidence, that they believe they’re unbelievable players, it’s those two guys.”

It’s the same trait that keeps the two battling night after night at whatever video game they have latched onto at the moment, the same trait that allows Smith to demand the ball and shoot an NBA-length three-pointer in huge situations, honestly believing — as Pitino has said — that he is the best player on the court. The same trait that has Mathieu slashing through towering defenders that make him look like a high schooler among professionals.

And it’s the same trait that brought them to Minnesota, when neither of them were ever supposed to be here.

Winding road

Mathieu started out as a walk-on at Morehead State in Kentucky, and when he didn’t get a scholarship the first year, he left for Central Arizona College, from where Pitino plucked the tiny but lightning-fast guard. Now, the junior point guard, who had been told many times that he wouldn’t play at the Division I level, repeatedly gushes to the media about just how happy he is to be with the Gophers.

Smith also had no D-I scholarships to speak of out of high school. “He may claim there was, but he was really delivered to us by a guy I know in Boston,” Pitino joked. “Now he’s playing in the Big Ten, he’s been a really good player for us.”

With the Gophers, the pair has found a special connection. Although Mathieu has started all season while Smith has come off the bench, they have found themselves in similar positions — as secondary offensive options to starters Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins, and responsible, more than ever, for defense, for rebounding, and for all the other little things that keep them on the court.

Different role on new team

Smith admits it has been a change of pace. Going from being the second-leading scorer for Florida International last season to a senior off the bench with the Gophers, he has gone through ups and downs; he has scored in single digits more times (six) than double digits (five).

“I’m still adjusting,” he said. “I thought I had figured it out after Maui, but as you saw, I came back and didn’t have the type of games I wanted. I’m still adjusting, I’m just going to keep working every day to get better.”

But while Smith has the propensity to toss up some ugly shots, there is no denying he is capable of coming through in important situations.

“That’s what he is,” Pitino said. “He takes big shots. That’s why I felt that he could come from FIU to this level, because he had unbelievable confidence. You’ve got to live with some craziness. People thought, probably the first couple games, ‘What is with this kid?’ ‘But once he settles down, gets comfortable, he’s extremely confident. He just shows that when you play that confident, you can do really good things.”

The same goes for Mathieu, who sometimes has television announcers chuckling with his hard-to-believe finishes. He attacks the lane as though he has an extra 5 inches of height and 50 pounds of weight on him.

None of it is an accident. Both players came into the Twin Cities with the same mindset as secondary offensive options.

“We talk to each other about being impact and trying to make the biggest difference,” Mathieu said. “Guys are going to key in on Dre and Austin [Hollins] a lot, so us two guards have to make a difference.”

Pitino said one of the major reasons they’ve been able to do so is the brimming confidence each shows.

“If we can get everybody else to that level … just working hard, believing in themselves, we’ll be a good team,” he said.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Washington
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Atlanta
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Denver
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 6:00 PM
Washington
Orlando 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Memphis 6:30 PM
Miami
Indiana 7:00 PM
Brooklyn
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Chicago
Atlanta 7:30 PM
Milwaukee
Philadelphia 8:00 PM
Utah
New York 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Minnesota 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Islanders 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Detroit 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Carolina 6:00 PM
Tampa Bay
New Jersey 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Boston 6:00 PM
Columbus
Winnipeg 6:00 PM
Minnesota
Washington 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Dallas 7:00 PM
St. Louis
Philadelphia 7:00 PM
Nashville
Anaheim 7:00 PM
Arizona
Chicago 8:00 PM
Colorado
Edmonton 9:00 PM
Calgary
San Jose 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
UAB 58 FINAL
North Carolina 89
IUPUI 55 FINAL
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 2nd Half 2:45
Maryland 67
Gonzaga 35 1st Half 4:20
BYU 29
Mercer 23 2nd Half
Georgia 32
San Francisco 30 1st Half 1:00
Pacific 34
Wright State 6:00 PM
Ohio State
Presbyterian 6:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Brescia 7:00 PM
Western Ky
Tennessee St 7:30 PM
Tennessee
Kennesaw St 8:00 PM
Illinois
Colorado State 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Portland 8:00 PM
San Diego
Wayland Baptist 8:05 PM
Utah State
Bristol University 8:05 PM
Weber State
Sacramento St 8:05 PM
Utah Valley U
Southern Utah 9:00 PM
UNLV
SD Christian 9:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 14 4th Qtr 2:50
So Carolina 24
Boston College 14 3rd Qtr 8:07
Penn State 7
(25) Nebraska 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Texas
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
Stanford
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
Minnesota
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
Tennessee
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
Florida
SMU 45 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 96
UCF 64 FINAL
Houston 50
BYU 62 FINAL
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 87 2nd Half 1:48
San Francisco 49
St Marys-CA 47 2nd Half 5:50
Santa Clara 55
San Diego 7:00 PM
Portland
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

<
Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: What's your favorite Gophers football uniform colors?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close