Richard Pitino is putting the onus on his players to get the Gophers men’s basketball team back on track by snapping a five-game losing streak Saturday at Illinois.
When asked on his radio show Monday about what he would’ve done differently in the losses, Pitino said he didn’t know if there was anything specific.
But he sees a lot of issues with how his players are handling themselves down the stretch in games.
“I can give them motivational speeches until I’m blue in the face,” Pitino said. “They’ve got to stop hijacking themselves in the game.”
Last season, the Gophers (15-7, 3-6) lost eight games by six points or fewer. Five of the six conference losses this season are by single digits, including Saturday’s 85-78 loss against Maryland at home.
When it comes to late-game execution, Pitino put it more on the players than the coaching staff to execute by making better decisions and avoid costly mistakes.
“They got to figure it out,” he said. “It’s gotta be done by them on the court. So you put them in positions in practice. But at the end of the day, they’ve got to do it.”
It sounded a lot like Pitino was doing what some coaches can’t help but do sometimes when they get frustrated after losses. Blame players. But he caught himself.
“It’s hard because you don’t want to sound like you’re throwing your players under the bus,” he said. “Because I really like these guys. I enjoy coaching them. But there’s certain things that like when you’re at this level you cannot do. And we’re doing that. We have to stop doing that. All it does is it takes away from the confidence of this team.”
Pitino joked that he does everything right and it’s “always the players’ fault.” But when being serious, he couldn’t think of any coaching decisions he regret so far during the losing streak.
“There are not a whole lot of regrets that I can think of,” he said. “There’s mistakes that are going to be made -- that’s part of the deal. As far as what I could do differently, I don’t know. I’m sure other people have opinions of it.”
PRAISE FOR SPRINGS: Senior guard Akeem Springs is averaging 18 points on 51 percent shooting from the field (20-for-39) and 45 percent from three-point range (9-for-20) since being put in the starting lineup three games ago.
The 6-foot-4 captain and graduate transfer received high praise Monday from Pitino, who called Springs “a bright spot” for the Gophers.
“He’s lost weight,” Pitino said. “He’s more confident. He’s playing better and he’s adjusted to the system. It wasn’t like this short cut to getting there. He’s putting in the work.”
Pitino said he thought Springs was a starter from the beginning, but Springs needed to adjust to the new system and team after arriving to the program late. Springs’ tweet in the fall about not being happy in Minnesota after learning he would come off the bench “really made things more difficult than they needed to be,” Pitino said.
“Akeem to me in my mind we were going to bring him in and start him,” Pitino said. “But he just got here in September. It was really, really overblown (Springs coming off the bench). And we were winning games, so it wasn’t necessary (to change) at the time. But I always looked at him like (a starter).”
MASON MILESTONE: In Saturday's loss vs. Maryland, junior guard Nate Mason became the 41st player in Gophers history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career. Mason, who is leading the team with 14.0 points per game this season, currently has 1,004 points.
He needs just 18 points to move up to 36th on the U's all-time career scoring list. That would pass Larry Mikan (1,007), Dick Garmaker (1,008), Jim Brewer (1,009), Ralph Sampson III (1,016) and Mo Hargrow (1,021).