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
Richard Pitino realizes just what mental struggles have almost cost the team.
And that's why after just nine seconds in Minnesota's game against New Orleans on Saturday, the Gophers coach pulled Andre Hollins after the guard didn't run the play Pitino had set out.
At Monday's press conference with the media Pitino said the quick move "wasn't a big deal," and that Hollins reacted really well to the lesson.
But the point that the coach was trying to make to his players is that staying mentally focused IS a big deal, and he's not afraid to take out even his best player to assure he gets it.
After all, Minnesota was threatened by both Divison II Chaminade -- who led by 9 in the second half -- because of mental mistakes, and struggled against Coastal Carolina in similar fashion. After watching the film, Pitino cited bad decisions and sloppiness as the reason the Gophers never really got off and running against New Orleans -- even after Pitino highlighted the importance of focus by taking out Hollins -- and then collapsed somewhat in the second half.
"The mental part of this game is just as important as the physical part," said Pitino, noting he emphasized it more than ever in practice as the Gophers prepare for South Dakota State on Tuesday. "We stress it as much as possible, show them doing certain things. The first play of the game, Andre Hollins doesn’t run the play that we call, but I should have taken DeAndre [Mathieu] out, DeAndre just threw the ball out of bounds. So looking back at it, they just lost a little focus. So you stress those things over and over again and you show them that anybody can get beat on any given night. And we did some things against New Orleans that could have gotten us beat."
None of it, though, is due to bad attitudes, Pitino said. Hollins handled being pulled out well, just as he handles criticsm well in general, the coach noted.
"Andre Hollins, you’ll yell at him and he, like, smiles at you," Pitino said. "They’re all really, really easy to coach. For year one, they’re fun to be around on a daily basis."
Center Elliott Eliason and guard Malik Smith are both expected to play on Tuesday against South Dakota State, Gophers coach Richard Pitino said on Monday morning's conference call with the media.
Both players practiced on Sunday after injuring their left ankles previously -- Eliason on Thursday and Smith on Friday -- sprains that limited them in Saturday's game against New Orleans. Smith, whom Pitino had said could barely walk that morning, didn't play at all, while Eliason played just four minutes in the first half before hobbling off.
After the game, Pitino was optimistic for Eliason's immediate return, but sounded much more reserved about Smith's status, calling his injury "worse." After practice, however, Pitino felt each had taken a notable step.
"They both seemed fine so we expect them both to play tomorrow," Pitino said. "Elliott was moving well. Malik was hobbling a little bit but once he got loose, he looked much better."
Whether Eliason immediately takes back his starting spot from Mo Walker -- who filled in with 11 points and eight rebounds on Saturday -- is a different story.
"I'm not really sure, to be honest with you," Pitino said. "I haven't made my decision yet, we're going to think about it."
Saturday was Walker's first career start, and he continued to show improvement after returning from a six-game suspension in the Gophers' second game of the Maui Invitational, against Arkansas. On Saturday, Walker played just 23 minutes after picking up his fourth foul early in the second half.
Read my full game story on the Gophers' 80-65 win over New Orleans here
Just healthy, the Gophers have more injuries to deal with.
In the two practices leading up to Saturday's win over New Orleans, Center Elliott Eliason and guard Malik Smith each sprained their left ankles, keeping the latter from entering the game and limiting the former to just four minutes.
Mo Walker started in Eliason's place for the first time this year, and responded, finishing with 11 points and eight rebounds, although he sat for most of the second half with four fouls.
Coach Richard Pitino said afterward that he "hopes" Eliason will be available to play on Tuesday in the Gophers' game against South Dakota State, but is more reserved about Smith's sprain.
After hurt it on Friday (Eliason tweaked his on Thursday), Smith actually re-entered practice and continued to play on it, but when he arrived at Williams Arena today, he could barely walk. Still, Pitino wasn't sure he couldn't play, remembering a time last year when he was coaching Smith at Florida International and the guard injured his back at Stetson in warmups.
"I said 'What is wrong with you?' And he said 'I can’t walk,'" Pitino remembered. "So I subbed him in … he played like 35 minutes, he had like 32 points (he played 30 minutes and had 29 points in reality) and I said ‘You’re not Willis Reed (who famously played hurt for the New York Knicks in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals) – stop doing that.’ So I thought he was doing that a little bit but he really wasn’t – he was pretty banged up. His seems worse than Elliott’s, so I hope he comes back, just rest is the biggest thing."
Eliason, meanwhile, had told Pitino he thought he was "65-70 percent" before the game, but it was pretty clear once he entered that he was not functioning at a high level. The center played for four minutes in the first half -- getting a pair of blocks -- and left, hobbling.
"He just looked like he was really hurting," Pitino said. "I told him during a timeout – 'You alright man?' He said "Ahhh …" They want to play, they want to fight through the injury. I just made a decision we’ve got to get some rest for those guys."
Other notes from the 80-65 victory:
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.”
Maverick Ahanmisi was looking almost as good as new before practice on Friday after leaving Tuesday's game against Florida State midway through the second half when he chipped a front tooth.
By Friday, that tooth had been replace and his smile mended, although Ahanmisi still sported a black right eye from the incident.
"They put a new tooth in, so it’s like brand new," Ahanmisi said.
The guard sustained the injury when his head was banged into the floor as he dove for a loose ball.
"When I hit the ground, I felt my tooth shoot to the back of my mouth," Ahanmisi said. "So I just laid there. I felt a bunch of fragments of my tooth in there so I just laid on the ground like ‘This can’t be happening right now.’"
Gophers coach Richard Pitino lauded the play by Ahanmisi, which came when Florida State was within eight points of Minnesota.
"it could have turned into a six-point game and Mav dove and had his chipped tooth because of it," Pitino said. "He saved us a basket, that was about to be a layup."
Joey King said his jaw is "100 percent back to normal" after the power forward fractured it in the game against Coastal Carolina.
King, who missed the Wofford game with the injury but has played since said that the worst part of playing with the injury was then plane ride to Maui, when his face was very swollen. He appeared to reaggrevate the injury against Syracuse, when he was fouled hard and hit the ground.
"I do my best to block it out," he said. "Worst things have happened, so hitting the floor, it’s not a big deal to me."
|Sports (2)||Basketball (8)|
|College basketball (824)||Gophers coaches (126)|
|Gophers players (723)||Tubby Smith (37)|
|Williams Arena (9)||Gophers game day (43)|
|Gophers postgame (6)||NCAA (2)|
|The Big Dance (8)||Gophers awards and honors (1)|
|Gophers post season (4)||Gophers roster moves (5)|
|Minnesota colleges (1)|