The Gophers men’s basketball team looked a little closer to what fans remembered from the previous two seasons Saturday.
The Gophers, stuck playing halfcourt defense almost exlusively this season, suddenly were trapping Oklahoma State, disrupting the Cowboys offense and pressing in the open court.
That could be more indicative of the defensive product observers can expect going forward, Gophers coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday, possibly beginning with Wednesday’s home game against Chicago State.
“Maybe I took it a little too slow with pressing,” Pitino said. “I was really trying to get the half court shored up. But it’s something that’s part of our identity as a team and a program, so we’ve got to continue to build off it.”
Pitino said he was more hesitant to implement the full-court press or trapping out of a matchup zone as a signature piece of the defense — as it had been his first two seasons in Minnesota — earlier this season because of the youth on the roster. The Gophers have seven freshmen and sophomores, and Pitino said implementing defensive fundamentals and half-court schemes took precedence.
Pitino also said matchups, especially against very good passing and shooting teams, have contributed to the Gophers’ limited press. The Gophers scoring defense ranks tied for 240th nationally, with opponents averaging 74.3 points a game.
“Sometimes when you press, you may give up an easy basket or two when you don’t want to,” Pitino said. “I think you’ve got to start from the ground up and that’s with the fundamentals of it before you can get rolling with the other things.”
McBrayer steady as starter
Pitino raved about Dupree McBrayer, who got his second start Saturday, and said he is comfortable keeping the freshman in that role.
“I loved his energy, I loved his defense, I loved his intensity, his activity,” Pitino said. “He got to the foul line a bunch. … I like where he’s at. It doesn’t mean he’s not going to make mistakes — he is. But I’m excited about where he’s headed.”
McBrayer’s biggest struggles have been with scoring. The 6-4 guard has been ice-cold all season, shooting 15.4 percent from the field and 1-for-17 (5.9 percent) from three-point range.
Pitino is confident those numbers will change. “He’s a better shooter than that,” he said.
Konate still recovering
It has been nearly two months since Bakary Konate returned to practice after missing 4½ weeks because of a stress fracture in his left foot, but it’s obvious the freshman center is still out of shape. Konate has been visibly winded in most games, and had to ask to be taken out at one point Saturday.
Pitino said an illness last week contributed to Konate’s clear fatigue vs. Oklahoma State, adding he missed practice the day before because of flu-like symptoms.
Although Konate was slowed in Monday’s practice, the coach said he expects him to be fully available Wednesday but admitted that his fitness has been a problem.
“He’s still not in great shape,” Pitino said. “Just yesterday in practice, he was gassed off just three trips up the court. Getting him in shape, getting him back in shape is something we’re really working on.
‘‘I think he just needs to play more, get up and down more.”