The Gophers were pushed into desperation mode. The time and score necessitated they score a basket, preferably a three-pointer.
Therein lies their problem.
They don’t shoot very well.
The Achilles’ heel of Richard Pitino’s team was on painful display throughout a tense, physical and testy battle with its rivals to the east. And when the Gophers needed perimeter shooting in the final minute, the predictable happened.
Three missed three-pointers doomed any chance at a comeback, leaving another smudge mark on the Gophers’ tournament résumé in a 56-51 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers at Williams Arena.
The Gophers trailed 52-46 with 1½ minutes left when Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Gabe Kalscheur all missed three-pointers.
That put a bow on a horrid shooting performance from beyond the arc. The Gophers made only one of 13 three-point attempts. That’s 7.7 percent for non-math majors.
Kalscheur had the lone made three-pointer on the team’s first attempt, meaning the Gophers missed 12 consecutive the rest of the game.
A segment of Gophers fans likely will howl about the officiating. Sure, it was odd that the Badgers went the entire first half without being called for a foul. But officiating didn’t decide the outcome.
The game included some heated moments and another incident involving Maple Grove’s Brad Davison, who provided more ammunition to those who believe he occasionally crosses the line. TV replays showed Davison sticking his leg out after missing a layup as Jordan Murphy came down for a rebound.
Frustration was the theme of the night inside the Barn. With the officials, the physical play and, of course, the Gophers’ shooting woes.
The Gophers entered the game ranked dead last in the Big Ten and 309th of 351 nationally in three-point shooting at 31.1 percent.
Thirty-one percent would have felt like the Golden State Warriors compared to their shooting display against the Badgers.
Pitino’s task in recruiting could not be more obvious. Find shooters. Then find some more.
Kalscheur is their best outside shooter, but one isn’t enough.
“We’ve got to hit some jump shots,” Pitino said.
Pitino gave that succinct assessment Tuesday when asked to preview the matchup. His statement proved prophetic because the Gophers didn’t hit jump shots. They didn’t keep the Badgers’ defense honest.
Their half-court offense too often looks like a car spinning its wheels. The dearth of true outside shooting forces them to work laboriously for every single basket.
Coffey is more comfortable and effective as a slasher. McBrayer is mired in a prolonged slump. And backup point guard Isaiah Washington has the lowest shooting percentage on the team at 31.5 percent.
McBrayer and Coffey combined for 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting, including 0-for-6 on three-pointers. The Gophers will struggle to defeat any team with that kind of production from their starting backcourt.
Cold shooting by the Badgers kept the score close, but the difference with the game on the line came down to execution and having a reliable go-to scorer.
The Badgers have Ethan Happ and the Gophers have … who exactly?
Happ can either score in the post with an array of moves, or find an open teammate when defenses double-team him. He’s a liability at the free-throw line, but Hack-a-Happ wasn’t a useful strategy this time.
The Gophers needed someone, anyone, to make a clutch shot, but the list is thin. Murphy gives maximum effort, but he’s undersized battling again trees inside.
McBrayer has lost his shooting touch and probably his confidence. Coffey looked out of sorts all game.
The Gophers’ best player in their biggest game of the season was freshman center Daniel Oturu, who finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.
Pitino needs to reinsert Oturu into the starting lineup because he’s more effective than Eric Curry at this point.
Some outside shooting would be helpful, too.