Read my full game story on Minnesota's 63-53 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday here.
Three observations after the Gophers' third straight loss:
The struggles are wearing on this team. Saturday, coach Richard Pitino benched senior point guard DeAndre Mathieu for "attitude" problems, and freshman Nate Mason -- who started in his place -- admitted that the team felt the captain's poor demeanor "a lot." After the Northwestern loss one game prior, senior Mo Walker said Pitino lit into the guys about playing like individuals and "playing like we're not a team anymore." Minnesota's seniors should be the overwhelming strength of this team, but as times have gotten tougher, the lack of natural leaders has been glaring.
Youth is the name of the game. It's hard not to think about the future when Pitino starts Mason over Mathieu, Charles Buggs over JUCO transfer Carlos Morris, and when he puts raw freshmen bigs Gaston Diehiou and Bakary Konate in early and often, noting that he has to "live with" some of their mistakes in order to get them meaningful minutes. The coach made it clear after the game that his No. 1 priority is still winning, but at this point, it certainly makes sense to be almost just as concerned with developing the lineup of the future. It might be difficult, however, for some fans to watch those raw bigs get big minutes while Minnesota is still very much in the game.
Not as bad as I thought it would be. Considering the circumstances, I thought Minnesota a) played decently and b) got a little fortunate with some shots that didn't roll Wisconsin's way. Andre Hollins went silent, scoring only two points and creating a mini slump after following a 4-for-11 performance vs. Northwestern with a 1-for-8 showing today -- and still the Gophers kept it respectable. Minnesota matched Wisconsin on the defensive boards, and out-rebounded the Badgers in all, 29-27, while holding them to 35.3 percent from three-point range. Walker did a good job on Wisconsin All-America center Frank Kaminsky after the first ten minutes or so -- some of his late points were a product of Konate's defense. But the Gophers didn't get to the line, they fouled too much and got sloppy in the second half.