Read my full story on Minnesota’s 93-90 win over Nebraska Omaha here.
Three observations before I head out in the frigid, un-Puerto Rico- like temps:
Winning ugly. When I asked senior forward Joey King tonight what it would take for the Gophers to take the next step and get out of this close-win, close-loss territory and onto firmer ground, he shrugged. “This is kind of a young team,” he said. “We’re going to win ugly sometimes and we recognize that.” He’s got a point. Will this team get to the point where they’re blowing out other teams – even less talented teams? That might not be realistic. From the Gophers’ perspective, any game they can gut out or steal is a big victory. And certainly, today’s win can be viewed as a steal. Omaha was impressive, scrappy, refusing to fall back at any point in the game. Omaha big man Jake White was tough, inside and out, and if he hadn’t fouled out with two minutes to go, it might have been a different story. That Minnesota was in such high spirits after this one says a lot. This year is going to serve as a sort of in-between. Whatever the Gophers can put away, they’ll be happy with.
Having an inside game helps. For the first time tonight, Minnesota looked like it had an interior offensive presence. Center Bakary Konate (career-high 14 points, 10 rebounds), continuing to improve after missing over a month with a foot injury, giving us glimpses into what his future could look like: fighting for rebounds, putting his head down and turning hard into the basket, finishing at the rim, blocking shots. He’s still getting in shape from missing so much time – Pitino said Konate asked for a sub twice, out of breath – but Friday was a good sign. Freshman Jordan Murphy (career-high 14 points) had his best game too, going hard at the basket and sporting the kind of aggressiveness and energy that is elusive from him at times. With the Gophers also hitting 11 three-pointers, it was a good balance, and would have put them in better position throughout had Omaha not been so efficient offensively.
Pitino will send messages, even at the team’s expense. Carlos Morris had an ugly live-ball turnover in the first minute of the first half and after coming out immediately, rode the pine for the next 11-plus minutes. Morris is prone to mind-boggling mistakes and bad shots, but he’s also one of the team’s best natural scorers at this juncture, and his absence was felt during a stretch where Omaha controlled. Pitino has remarked that the bench is the “greatest motivator” but sometimes that motivation can come with a cost if he does it too much down the road, particularly with senior captains. The message though? Received. “That was definitely a long sit for me,” Morris said. “And I kind of woke up from that.