One possession after Dupree McBrayer landed a three-pointer to cut Minnesota's deficit to five in the second half of an ultimate 75-71 loss at Iowa on Sunday, freshman Ahmad Gilbert was called for a foul on the Hawkeyes' Jarrod Uthoff and was not happy about it.
"I thought he was going to fight the ref," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Monday night on his weekly radio show on 1500-a.m. "I'm surprised he didn't get a technical because he was way too emotional on that."
But while Pitino certainly doesn't condone attacking officials (Gilbert never got that far, of course), he doesn't hate the place that Gilbert's fire came from. His assessment of Gilbert's biggest value to the team was one of the more interesting bits to come out of the radio show this week.
"JR [Gilbert] comes in the game and he's got spirit and he fights," Pitino said. "That's why started playing him. That's why I started putting him in that starting lineup [before he was injured]."
For a team that has managed just six wins and slumped to an 0-13 record in Big Ten play, that fervor and intensity is attractive for obvious reasons. When Gilbert is out on the floor it's apparent that if nothing else, he cares. A lot.
On Sunday, the 6-6 wing, who returned from missing two weeks with a dislocated finger last Wednesday against Michigan, played a statistical role in helping to keep the Gophers close to their ranked foe, posting eight points, four rebounds and two assists. But it might be Gilbert's enthusiasm Pitino appreciates more.
On the other side of the coin is current starter Charles Buggs, who Pitino has strongly hinted is going through some confidence struggles.
1500 host Mike Grimm noted that after Buggs missed a three-pointer on Sunday, Pitino encouraged him that it was a "good shot" as he took him out. But Buggs, walking to the bench, mouthed "No it wasn't, no it wasn't," Grimm observed.
"He has not made a lot of shots in Big Ten play and I think he knows that," Pitino said. "He's a good kid. It's my job to really instill him with a lot of confidence because he definitely gets down on himself. He'll shoot it and he thinks he knows if it's going in or not when it's in the air. Normally he says 'That's off.' So it's just getting his mentality the right way is important. But he's trying the best he can.
"It's not that Buggs isn't fighting, he's just a different type of a player on the court," he added. "He's not going to show that emotion to bring guys together. Buggs gets down on himself more on the floor than JR does. JR thinks he's Steph Curry out there. And that's a good thing, confidence-wise."