If the Gophers scrimmage on Friday night was any indication, newcomer Deandre Mathieu is very comfortable in the new up-tempo system under coach Richard Pitino.
The lightning-fast JUCO guard flew up and down the court, showed plenty of energy on defense and exploded for a game-high 26 points with three steals, even as his Gold team lost to Maroon 61-53.
“I guess playing fast is me,” Mathieu said after the “Raise the Barn — First Look Scrimmage” event at Williams Arena. “As a little guy, I have no choice but to be high energy. If I’m slow and I’m small, I have no chance.”
Although there are three more weeks until the season officially tips off, there is a chance Mathieu could earn himself a starting spot. Pitino said Friday he was considering the 5-9 point guard as a starter — although the competition is wide open right now. Fellow guards Andre Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi could also play the point, or they could slide in at other guard spots.
Austin Hollins is expected to get a starting spot, and Pitino also listed Malik Smith, Joey King, Oto Osenieks, Elliott Eliason and Mo Walker as players who could wind up as starters.
“He’s really good,” Pitino said of Mathieu. “He’s one of those guys where when we saw him play when we got the job, we thought he really fit the way we like to play — so quick, he’s so aggressive. … He’s going to be a major part of what we want to do.”
Friday, he stole the show, zipping around defender Andre Hollins and making eight of 11 shots from the field and five of six free throws. His tireless speed and nifty shots had the small crowd at the Barn swooning.
“He showed us some stuff tonight that we hadn’t seen in practice,” Hollins said, grinning widely. “I guess he saved it in his pocket for everyone else to see. … I’m shooting myself in the foot with that one, because I was guarding him. So I guess I have to pick my defense up a little more.”
Go fast, but be in control
Before the game, Pitino wrote a ratio on the board in the locker room: 2-to-1.
It was a mark he wanted the teams’ assists to turnovers to come close to matching.
It appears the Gophers have a lot of work to do in that area. The Maroon team was slightly heavier on the turnovers (18) than assists (15), while Gold more than flipped the ideal ratio, collecting only five assists to 17 turnovers.
The fast-paced, run-and-gun game Pitino brings to Minnesota makes an existing ballhandling problem potentially more concerning in the short term, an area he’s concentrating on in practice.
“It’s a little bit of really good defense, but it’s also a little bit of just not taking care of the basketball,” Pitino said.
Andre Hollins, considered by many to be the face of the Gophers, had a quiet night offensively, but it was his defensive presence, not his point total, that had Pitino raving.
The guard had five steals in 28 minutes to help contribute to Gold’s 17 turnovers.
“I think that’s the whole philosophy,” Hollins said. “Getting teams out of their comfort zones, playing unconventionally.”
Trying on a new style
Count Austin Hollins as another player who appears to slide seamlessly into Pitino’s system. The guard finished with 21 points to lead the Maroon team, while adding three rebounds, three assists and a steal in 24 minutes.
“I feel like he’s more comfortable, confident,” Andre Hollins said. “You can see … he was rolling tonight. Defensively, he’s always been good, and I think the way we play defense gets him going offensively a little bit better.”
Osenieks also had a strong shooting night, going 7-for-11 from the field, 1-for-2 from three-point range and finishing with 16 points and seven rebounds. Osenieks struggled mightily with his shooting a season ago.
“He’s another guy that has really responded to the challenge,” Pitino said. “He was fighting for every single rebound.”