Hartman: Despite his size, Mathieu comes up big for Gophers

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 10, 2014 - 12:19 PM

The 5-9 point guard often is the difference in a game's outcome.

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Gophers point guard DeAndre Mathieu and Indiana's Stanford Robinson went after a loose ball during the first half at Williams Arena on Saturday.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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Although he’s often the smallest player on the basketball court, listed at 5-9 and 165 pounds, DeAndre Mathieu is a crowd favorite, and he proved once again Saturday in a 66-60 victory over Indiana at Williams Arena that as the junior point guard goes, so go the Gophers.

Mathieu led all players in points (16) and assists (five) while also grabbing two steals and committing only one turnover in 34 minutes. He also scored the decisive basket on a big drive to the hoop with 18 seconds left that gave the Gophers a 64-60 lead.

“It feels good to finally get one to go down at the end,” he said. “I feel like I’m one of those players that loves to take the last shot. I have the ultimate confidence in myself, and it just feels good to get one to go.”

Mathieu was asked about how comfortable he feels taking big shots late in games.

“I have ultimate confidence in myself, and my teammates do, too, so I just go after it,” he said.

Following the game, Gophers coach Richard Pitino talked about Mathieu’s play down the stretch.

“Mathieu missed shots against Northwestern and Purdue [that could have won games], but he comes back to make that big shot against Indiana,” Pitino said. “DeAndre made an unbelievable move to get to the rim, then he comes in traffic to get the rebound [on a missed Indiana three-pointer with six seconds left].

“He is 5-9, 165 pounds, but he believes he is 6-8, 230.”

Pitino has to know that Mathieu’s play can be the difference between winning and losing in the Big Ten.

In the Gophers’ six conference losses this season, Mathieu has averaged 10 points on 42.3 percent shooting. In the Gophers’ five conference victories, Mathieu has averaged 14.8 points on 57.4 percent shooting.

Mathieu is the team’s second- leading scorer at 11.8 points per game. He also leads the team with 4.3 assists per game and is second in steals with 1.7 per game, proving how important his all-around game is to the Gophers.

Long road to the U

Despite being the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel’s 2011 player of the year and a member of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association’s Class AAA All-State team, Mathieu was not heavily recruited. He walked on at Morehead (Ky.) State in 2011-2012 and played his sophomore season at Central Arizona College.

Mathieu was the second player to sign a national letter of intent for the Gophers after Pitino took over as head coach last year, but few could have known how quickly he would become the team’s most important player.

Mathieu was coming off a good season with Central Arizona, averaging 17.1 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game. He was named the Arizona Community College Conference Player of the Year.

He had taken official visits with the Gophers, Memphis and Mississippi and also had offers from UCLA, Pepperdine, Wofford and Washington State.

Mathieu told Rivals.com while he was being recruited that “I want the chance to play and make an impact right away. I’m looking for a family environment where everybody gets along, a place where everybody is having a good time playing basketball. The biggest thing is a chance to play in the right environment.”

When Mathieu signed, Pitino said he knew he had a player who could do several things to help the Gophers.

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