Bakary Konate trudged to the bench, his coach’s glare a laser in his direction.
The Gophers had clawed back to within two points of Texas Tech in Puerto Rico, but Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders were pulling away again late in the second half Sunday when Konate was called for a charge. Once again, the Gophers’ top post presence headed for his seat.
Richard Pitino’s scowl was justified. Konate had picked up his fourth foul, in only six minutes of playing time. He would sit the final seven minutes of the game. Texas Tech would shoot 10 more free throws, and 29 for the game, while pulling away for a 81-68 victory at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.
Konate wasn’t the only problem. The Gophers picked up 26 fouls, seven players collecting at least three. This, two days after picking up 22 against Missouri State.
“It just seemed like there was a whistle every minute or so,” senior Joey King said after Friday’s victory.
Fouling is an ominous early trend, with the Gophers averaging 20.2 fouls in five games, ranking tied for 157th of 346 Division I teams. More trouble could be ahead with Friday’s opponent, Nebraska Omaha, sporting a fast-paced, driving game that could spur another flurry of whistles.
“You’d better get back, get set, show your hands on all drives,” Pitino said.
The Gophers have been having trouble following their coach’s instructions. Their frontcourt players have been the biggest culprits, with centers Konate and Gaston Diedhiou and forwards King, Charles Buggs and Jordan Murphy collecting 57 percent of the team’s fouls.
The result has been an anemic version of an already-thin frontcourt, forcing Pitino to field a smaller lineup at inopportune times and putting the Gophers on the wrong end of mismatches.
Pitino and players have been quick to point to this season’s new NCAA rules — which include an emphasis on some touch fouls outlined a year ago — as a cause.
King said he was “frustrated” with how the game was being called in Puerto Rico. Pitino called the officiating “tight” but said he expected it at the start of the season and saw the same types of calls when he switched on the TV on Tuesday to watch Marquette-Arizona State — and 51 fouls.
“It was every whistle,” he said.
“Will they continue to officiate like this is something I want to see. Will they do this at Michigan State, at Iowa, at Wisconsin? I don’t know. If they stick to it, it’s going to significantly change the game.”
Pitino said he is still trying to figure out how the team can guard the post with the new foul rules, commenting that reaching over the top as a player shoots has been called immediately. Konate agrees.
“You have to show your arms all the time,” he said. “It’s frustrating and tough. What does a big have to do to get a good call?”
King said the forwards have been focusing on “walling up” in the paint in order to avoid calls — and Pitino added a second early-morning practice on Tuesday with such fundamentals in mind.
But the Gophers’ youth and inexperience likely plays into that as well. Of the seven players with the most fouls, two averaged less than 14 minutes per game last season and three others are freshmen.
“The young guys just have to learn how to play,” Morris said. “We’re just still adjusting to the rules. … We haven’t had a lot of post presence lately, and we need those guys to kind of soften up the [defense] for us.
“They’ve been in foul trouble, and it’s hurting.”