Madison, Wis. – With Wisconsin threatening to turn what had been a competitive game into a blowout Saturday, Gophers guard DeAndre Mathieu was determined to fight, hitting four baskets in the final 10 minutes, 10 seconds — including a rare three-pointer — and keeping his team within striking range.
But the fire that the Gophers have come to love in Mathieu can be the same characteristic that keeps him off the court.
It apparently kept him out of the starting lineup for the fourth time this season. Coach Richard Pitino benched Mathieu at the start of the Gophers' 63-53 loss to the No. 5 Badgers in favor of freshman Nate Mason, citing the senior's "attitude" as the reason.
Mathieu has a reputation for beating himself up after losses. Pitino also has hinted this year that the senior has played for his own stats too much. Although Mathieu still was a big contributor Saturday, it was clear Pitino believed whatever drama — no one offered any specifics — that had gone on behind closed doors required a response.
"Coming from a leader, we feel it a lot," Mason said. "So it's good that coach set the boundaries and made DeAndre learn. I think he learned his lesson and ... he was a great teammate today, so I think it's going to carry over."
Pitino said following Wednesday's home loss to Northwestern that Mathieu, one of the team's captains, got frustrated with himself to a point that it was affecting him and his teammates.
"I wasn't crazy about his attitude," Pitino said. "So I wasn't going to play him a whole lot."
Mathieu still played 21 minutes vs. Wisconsin and finished with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, getting into the lane off pick-and-rolls and adding that three to his scores at the rim. He has scored at least 10 points in the past three games after failing to reach that mark the previous seven.
Pitino said he thought Mathieu responded well to his message but still anticipates starting Mason (who also had 11 points along with five assists to go with one turnover) again Thursday at Michigan State.
Fellow senior Mo Walker said he liked the drive Mathieu gave the team at the end, even though the Gophers fell short of really threatening Wisconsin.
"He came out and gave us great energy today," Walker said. "I think he did a lot of good things, attacking the basket, defensively as well."