The most memorable moment of 2019 for Gabe Kalscheur was him strumming the air guitar during his lights-out, 24-point game vs. Louisville last March that propelled the Gophers to their first NCAA tournament win in six years.
“It was an unbelievable moment,” Kalscheur said. “Just being there actually playing in it and having a really great game was remarkable.”
After that Louisville game, the word was definitely out that Kalscheur’s hot shooting could be a game-changer. More attention from opposing defenses this season led to early struggles, but the former DeLaSalle standout broke out with 34 points in a key 86-66 victory last week against Oklahoma State in Tulsa.
The Gophers (6-5), who host Florida International (9-3) on Saturday at Williams Arena, are riding high on momentum now with wins vs. Oklahoma State and Ohio State the past two games.
“We tasted success and we just want to build on that,” Kalscheur said. “I feel like we’re preparing more and have more confidence to attack every team we face.”
They’ll need consistency from Kalscheur, especially with junior starting guard Payton Willis expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury. Willis’ absence, though, didn’t keep the Gophers from scoring at a high level last week vs. Oklahoma State.
The Gophers pushed the ball in transition. They established the paint with center Daniel Oturu. That allowed Kalscheur to get more open shots and get into rhythm even against a zone defense.
“The last game we adjusted to what they were giving us,” coach Richard Pitino said. “We like to push the tempo, but we saw that when [Oturu] is running down to the rim and our wings are getting out like they were doing, you’re going to get some easy looks if you get it up the court.”
Pitino will continue to look for ways to get Kalscheur and sophomore point guard Marcus Carr going offensively in the backcourt. Carr scored just nine points on 2-for-12 shooting vs. the Cowboys, but he had a 35-point game in the upset over then-No. 3 Ohio State on Dec. 15.
“We can’t expect a guy to score 30 every night,” said Carr, who had 11 assists vs. Oklahoma State. “It’s just showing different people can step up at different times, really produce and really just be that boost for the team whenever we need it.”
After three straight games of scoring under double figures to open the season, Kalscheur had five games in a row with at least 11 points. He also rebounded from a scoreless game on 0-for-10 shooting in a Dec. 9 loss at Iowa to score 15 points in the victory vs. the Buckeyes. Then came the 7-for-9 shooting on three-pointers vs. Oklahoma State.
After the Louisville game last season, Kalscheur has had to find different ways to adjust to the attention.
“They’re going to run me off the line, so I’m going to have to attack,” he said. “That brings other defenders coming up on me, so I can give it to the open teammate.”
Kalscheur often makes his presence felt defensively, but the Gophers are a much different team when he’s hitting deep shots. His three-point shooting percentage dipped from 41% last season to 31.1% before last week. But Kalscheur didn’t lose his confidence.
“I wouldn’t call it pressure, but I do feel like they key on me more,” Kalscheur said. “They know I’m a shooter.”