A year ago, Gophers coach Richard Pitino welcomed transfer guards Marcus Carr and Payton Willis, and returned Gabe Kalscheur coming off a breakout NCAA tournament debut.
The trio was supposed to be Pitino’s backcourt of the future.
Willis transferred again, this time to Charleston, but Carr and Kalscheur returned this season for the Gophers as seasoned juniors, both named co-captains. Pitino added Utah transfer and Austin, Minn., native Both Gach, who had his waiver approved by the NCAA to play immediately.
The result was an impressive season debut for Pitino’s new backcourt of Carr, Kalscheur and Gach, who had 66 combined points in Wednesday’s 99-69 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay at Williams Arena.
“All those guys are going to play key roles,” said Pitino, who hopes to see a repeat all-around effort for the Gophers guards against Loyola Marymount on Saturday.
Carr’s career-high-tying 35 points stood out Wednesday, especially helping the Gophers pull away in the second half, when a pesky Green Bay squad cut Minnesota’s lead to 10 points.
But Kalscheur also impacted the game beyond his three-point shooting. The 6-6 Gach played point guard, shooting guard and on the wing, as a jack-of-all-trades piece that made everything fit.
“I love playing with Both,” Carr said. “Both’s a great athlete. He’s able to run the floor, get out and make athletic plays and athletic plays on the defensive end as well. Getting out in the passing lanes. Both is another great addition to our team. He gives us another person who can really attack the rim, put pressure on the defense and get to the free-throw line.”
Carr, Gach and Kalscheur combined to shoot 17-for-17 from the foul line Wednesday. Only Carr shot well from three-point range (4-for-10), but he didn’t settle for jump shots. Neither did Gach nor Kalscheur. Of the 50 points in the paint against Green Bay, the Gophers had 28 in the first half, including 24 points in the paint from their guards.
Carr and Gach combined for 24 points at halftime, when the Gophers led Green Bay by 31 points.
“[Carr] is a really good guard that can score on all three levels,” Gach said. “He can get to the rim. The midrange game is there. The three ball is there.”
Gach respects Kalscheur’s game, too. They’re two of the team’s best perimeter defenders. Gach took advantage with a wide open lane to finish with an emphatic two-handed dunk Wednesday, when the defense was worried about the long ball.
“He’s one of those guys who spaces the floor,” Gach said of Kalscheur. “You can’t leave Gabe wide open for threes. As a team you’re going to pay for that. For me when I see guys like that we just jell together. We always play off each other. It’s great to have.”
Pitino said to expect Carr to consistently have 30-point nights like he did Wednesday is not realistic. And the coach wants to see his backcourt improve its shot selection overall and take better care of the basketball. Carr and Gach combined for seven of the team’s 13 turnovers.
The Gophers will have to rely mostly on their perimeter right now because frontcourt newcomers Liam Robbins and Brandon Johnson are slowly coming off injuries. And Eric Curry’s minutes are being limited after his long recovery from a second knee surgery last season.
Pitino’s backcourt is so deep, though, that highly touted freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. didn’t have to do much in his debut (five points in 14 minutes). And that was even with sophomore guard Tre’ Williams and freshman guard David Mutaf missing the opener.
“It’s our most deep team by far,” Pitino said. “We were able to fill in with some other guys and not miss a beat.”