Michigan coach John Beilein made sure his players didn’t look ahead to a game with Big Ten title implications this weekend against Michigan State.
Beilein treated the Wolverines’ warmup opponent, Minnesota, like an NCAA tournament-caliber team Thursday night.
“I assume they’re going to get into the NCAA tournament,” he said of the Gophers. “They’re good enough.”
Being good enough and actually having a résumé that gets them in are two different things.
Putting up a fight late made it much closer than the game really was for the Gophers, who are running out of chances for signature wins after a 69-60 loss against the No. 7 Wolverines in front of an announced 11,084 fans at Williams Arena.
“It felt like the weight of the world was on our shoulders,” Pitino said. “We couldn’t get out of our own way. Couple that with some of those threes they were hitting in the second half, we dug a hole. We tried to fight back, but it was too big of a hole.”
The Gophers (17-10, 7-9 Big Ten) went from arguably their best offensive performance of the Big Ten season in an 84-63 victory over Indiana on Saturday to a season-low 18 points in the first half against Michigan on only 22 percent shooting.
Gophers senior forward Jordan Murphy had 18 points and 15 rebounds, and freshman center Daniel Oturu added 18 points and 12 rebounds. The Gophers had 44 points in the paint, but they were only 1-for-10 on three-pointers. That came after making a season-best 12 threes against the Hoosiers.
Needing a buzzer-beater to escape with a 59-57 victory in their previous meeting with Minnesota, the Wolverines (24-3, 13-3) were much more efficient shooting three-pointers this time around. They went 13-for-28 from beyond the arc, compared to 3-for-22 on Jan. 22.
Junior center Jon Teske finished with 11 of his 17 points in the second half. Sophomore guard Jordan Poole had a game- high 22 points on 5-for-10 shooting from three as the Wolverines shot 54 percent from the field and hit eight threes in the second half.
Murphy admitted that the Gophers were so discouraged with their poor shooting at times that it carried over to defensive lapses. He tried to keep encouraging Minnesota’s leading scorer, Amir Coffey, who was 0-for-10 in the first half. Coffey finished with only six points on 2-for-15 shooting.
“I just told him to stay confident and keep being aggressive,” Murphy said. “He was getting to the basket pretty well. They just weren’t falling. He just wasn’t really getting calls.”
In his six seasons at Minnesota, Pitino is 2-11 vs. top-10 teams and hasn’t beaten one since a 68-63 victory vs. No. 6 Maryland at home on Feb. 18, 2016.
The Gophers desperately need more quality wins to secure their first NCAA bid since 2017, but they dropped to 1-7 in Quadrant 1 games since winning 59-52 on Jan. 3 at Wisconsin.
Quad 1 games are the most important in determining an NCAA tournament at-large bid. The Gophers’ final two games of the regular season will be in that high-end category: vs. Purdue on March 5 and at Maryland on March 8.
Before that, though, the Gophers can’t afford to slip up in consecutive road games at Rutgers on Sunday and at Northwestern next Thursday.
“Those teams have nothing to lose,” Murphy said. “But we really can’t take anything for granted. We can’t underestimate any opponent. We can’t afford to.”