Gophers down Cardinal Stritch in exhibition

Minnesota won 79-57 in its first action of the season.

Jace Frederick

The Gophers offense was fast, fluid and efficient in the first half of their season opening 79-57 exhibition win over Cardinal Stritch. Minnesota’s defense attacked and forced numerous turnovers that led to easy buckets in head coach Richard Pitino’s unofficial debut.

The second half? Eh, not so much.

After dominating the first half, Minnesota was outscored 38-33 in the second half by the Wolves.

“We’ve got a lot of things to work on,” senior guard Austin Hollins said. “I think we did a good job tonight, but we’re going to keep on improving.”

The Gophers’ fast start was sparked by a relentless full-court press. Minnesota forced 17 turnovers on the night.

“I liked our press early better than late,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we did some good things on defense — 11 steals is pretty good.”

Sophomore forward Joey King was a key cog in the Gophers press, using his length to make it difficult for smaller guards to find open teammates.

The defense sparked opportunities in transition for Minnesota, including a ferocious one-handed slam from Hollins early in the first half. Hollins added a second impressive flush in the half-court set later for good measure. He finished with 17 points to lead the team.

“I just try to bring energy,” Hollins said. “Getting steals, forcing turnovers, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Minnesota took care of the ball on Friday night — something it struggled to do last season. Pitino said the Gophers 23-to-7 assist-to-turnover rate was a positive.

DeAndre Mathieu was efficient leading the break and finished with seven points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 21 minutes.

“He’s an extremely fast guard  and he fits the way that we want to play,” Pitino said. “[His assists-to-turnover ratio] is really good.”

The Gophers intensity seemed to dip in the final 20 minutes, but the junior guard Andre Hollins didn’t think it stemmed from fatigue. No player played more than 24 minutes Friday.

“We’ve got to keep our focus and intensity up the entire game,” Andre Hollins said. “We want to be one of the hardest working teams in America.”

That drop in intensity showed in the rebounds category — where the Gophers were beat 40-34.

“We’ve got to work on that,” junior center Elliott Eliason said. “We need to be a better rebounding team if we’re going to compete.”

Another glaring weakness came in the free-throw department, where the Gophers shot a meager 11-for-30. But Pitino wasn’t concerned with the struggles from the charity stripe.

“We’re a good free-throw shooting team. We’re a good shooting team,” he said. “That’s why you play these exhibition games — to get the nerves out. That’s probably one of the least of my concerns to be honest.”

Minnesota takes on Concordia-St. Paul in its final exhibition battle Monday night. The Gophers face Lehigh in its true season opener on Friday.

“It wasn’t great, but it was good,” Andre Hollins said of the win. “It wasn’t a huge leap, but we did pretty good overall.”