Two and a half weeks ago, with second-year point guard DeAndre Mathieu struggling to make good decisions with the ball or approach the same player he was in non-conference play, coach Richard Pitino made a change.
The Gophers, after all, were mired in an 0-4 slump and searching for answers. The coach flipped the starting lineup on its head, but Minnesota still lost to Iowa, its fifth straight. Pitino returned the starters to their posts, with one exception: freshman Nate Mason continued his new role, over Mathieu, for two more games.
During his first two games on the bench, Mathieu shot 61.5 percent from the field and he collected eight assists to four turnovers after managing just eight to 17 in the previous four. But in the third game off the bench, in another loss at Nebraska, Mathieu went 0-for-7 and his frustration was obvious.
The next outing -- at home vs. Illinois -- Pitino reinserted his senior guard into the starting five. After the game, he told the media that he simply "was more used to having DeAndre start." But I wouldn't be surprised if a concern that he would otherwise mentally lose his senior also came into play.
Regardless, since that Illinois game, Mathieu has been in a shooting slump to rival his earlier ball handling slump.
After Wednesday night's 63-58 loss at Penn State, dropping the Gophers to 2-7 in Big Ten play, Mathieu's shooting woes in the last three games extended to 2-for-18 from the field (11.1 percent) in the last three games.
In Happy Valley, those struggles were evident, even as fellow senior guard Andre Hollins pointed out that his defense -- Mathieu had three steals and a handful of deflections -- was part of the reason the Gophers were able to plow back from a 13-point deficit.
"I think he was the main catalyst," Hollins said. "He had a lot of slapdowns. That was a part of [the] scouting [report] and he did a great job of that."
But the 5-foot-9 Mathieu also went 1-for-7 from the field and missed three layups, two of which were blocked. As the conference season grows longer, his size has been exposed more and more.
At the time of the original lineup shakeup, Hollins -- who never lost his starting spot -- was in a shooting slump of his own, having managed just 20.7 percent from the field in the previous five games. Then, Mathieu challenged his backcourt comrade, urging him to drive more and settle less.
Now, Hollins is returning some of the reminders, starting with getting on Mathieu about his on-court attitude that seems to affect the entire team at times.
"Yeah definitely, we can feel it," Hollins said. "Sometimes he lets his body language get to him."
The combo guard added: "He's just got to stay aggressive. If he could get back to what he was doing at the beginning of the season, getting in the lane, penetrating, being strong with the ball, getting those easy layups, hitting that pullup jumper he likes. He's just got to get his rhythm back."
In the meantime, is Pitino tempted to switch back to Mason to start games? Not especially. The pair of floor generals have coincided their struggles -- in the last four the newcomer has gone 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) after being perhaps the team's most consistent presence for most of the year.
"Nate is in a bit of a slump too now," Pitino said "So it's just where we're at right now. I didn't look at it like that when I made that change. I just kind of did it because I liked the rotation little bit better."