South Dakota, Minnesota’s opponent on Saturday (2 p.m.; BTN-plus) has four Minnesotans on the roster:
Senior Eric Robertson, who is averaging 8.1 points a game, was a Mr. Basketball finalist at Wayzata; Freshman Dan Jech averaged 16.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last year at Rochester Mayo and is the fourth-best scorer for South Dakota, putting up 10.6 points a game; sophomore D.J. Davis, who is averaging 6.6 points and 1.1 steals a game, earned all-state honors at Bloomington Kennedy; and Junior Tyler Flack, who was named to the Class AAAA All-Tournament team after leading Lakeville North to a runner-up finish in his senior year. Flack hasn’t played yet this season after redshirting last year due to an early-season injury.
None of those players are at the same level as Jake White, the Nebraska Omaha big man from Chaska who dropped 23 vs. Minnesota on Nov. 27, but the Gophers know they’ll be getting the foursome’s best shot in the homecoming.
“Obviously being from Minnesota and not getting the chance to play here, they’re going to have something on their shoulder,” Nate Mason said on Friday. “We’ve got to expect that.”
Pitino wants his young team to stay the course.
Mason said that after the Gophers’ 89-83 win over Clemson on Monday, coach Richard Pitino had to get after the team following a lackadaisical practice.
“After the Clemson win, we were obviously happy, but we kind of laid back in practice one time and coach was on our [butts] about it,” Mason said. “He said it was human nature coming off a win like that that we were going to fall down, lay down a little bit, but we can’t have that happen because we’ve got a good South Dakota team coming in.”
Pitino attributed that momentary slack to a young team learning how to handle the ups and downs of a long season.
“You can have some really good practices and then you can have some bad practices with a young team,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is getting them to refocus and understand it was nice to beat Clemson, but our goals are certainly a lot bigger, and we’ve got to get better.”
47 and rolling.
Minnesota’s non-conference win streak at home was extended to 47 following Monday’s victory.
“It’s important, knock on wood, to take care of your home court obviously in the non-conference,” Pitino said. “You sometimes overlook, when you’re in a great conference like we are, you sometimes forget how important the non-conference can be …If we’re able to win the rest of them, which I know will be difficult, then you’ve somewhat done your job. And then you go into conference play and it’s another animal.”