Following a pair of tight losses to start 2016, the Gophers barely had a heartbeat against Northwestern at Williams Arena and lost by 25.

"I did a horrible job preparing the guys for that game," coach Richard Pitino said Wednesday, after watching film from the Jan. 9 rout.

"That was not a great game plan. I looked at [the film] and said, 'OK, what were we trying to do from an offensive standpoint?' I thought defensively, we just had breakdowns. But from an offensive standpoint, I did not like what I gave the guys.

"I've got to do a better job of that and put them in positions to succeed."

Pitino and the Gophers (6-16, 0-10 Big Ten) get their second shot at the Wildcats on Thursday in Evanston, Ill. The Gophers have lost 11 games in a row but none of the past five by more than seven points.

Pitino said he thinks his players' confidence suffered in that 77-52 loss, and perhaps not only for that game: The Gophers lost by 25 again the next time out, at Nebraska.

In the Wildcats' most lopsided victory ever against Minnesota, the Gophers failed to attack Northwestern's defensive zone, Pitino said. They shot only 39.1 percent from the field and failed to score on a fast break, where they're typically most successful.

Minnesota's defense and hustle weren't much better: Northwestern shot 56 percent, and the Wildcats outrebounded the Gophers 33-17.

"I thought the elements got to us a little bit," Pitino said. "It's tough to get embarrassed on your home court, and we shut it down a little bit. We've learned from that."

The coach sounded a lot more optimistic about the Gophers' state heading into Thursday's Round 2, saying he believes the team is finding an identity.

In four of the past five games, the Gophers have shot 41.2 percent or better from the field — after managing to do so only once in the previous five — and were leading or within three points with less than four minutes to play.

But poor execution at the finish, poor free-throw shooting and defensive lapses have kept them from turning those good vibes into victories.

"We didn't have an identity early in the season," Pitino said.

"I think we're starting to say, 'OK, we can get stops, we can rebound, we're somewhat confident in that, where before we weren't.' I think the young guys are starting to figure out where they can help us.

"The last five games, two-and-a-half weeks, we've been in every game, we've been close. We've just got to find a way to win some of these. It's a broken record the last year and a half with these close losses."