Gophers hope to pick up pace for Cavaliers

by David La

Talk about a scheduling shift. The Virginia men’s basketball team comes into Williams Arena tonight fresh off a fifth-place finish at the Puerto Rico Shootout.
For Cavaliers second-year coach Pete Gillen, the inaugural Big Ten/ACC Challenge provides a different climate.
“Its a little change,” Gillen said. “Minnesota is beautiful, but it’s a different type of beauty.”
And just like the change in temperature, there’s a contrast in tempo for Minnesota (3-0) and Virginia (4-1).
The Cavaliers pile up points at a techno-music pace. Led by point guard Donald Hand (17.0 points per game), Virginia scores an average of 83.2 PPG.
“I don’t know how well it’s working, but we try to play fast,” Gillen said. “Pressing and running, changing defenses. I think it’s a fun way to play. Our fans enjoy it.”
While the scoot-and-score Cavaliers offense brings home fans to their feet, it brings opposing coaches to their knees.
“Virginia is going to test us with 40 minutes of baseline-to-baseline pressure and relentless athleticism on the boards,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said.
“This is going to be our sternest challenge to this point,” he added.
Though a lack of enthusiasm isn’t likely, Minnesota’s biggest challenge is sustaining intensity.
Monson and his players noted that Saturday’s win against Morehead State lacked a critical element.
“We won the game,” forward Dusty Rychart said. “But I think we lost the game by means of preparing ourselves to get better.”
To get better overall and to fare well against Virginia, the Gophers need to improve in the rebounding department. Monson called rebounding “a huge concern for me on Tuesday.”
The 6-foot-7 Rychart leads the team with 10.7 rebounds per game, with 7-foot-1 Joel Przybilla a surprising third with 5.3 RPG. The sophomore center is still without an offensive rebound.
Things might get better for the big man tonight — the Cavaliers’ roster features no players over 6-feet-10. Last year, Virginia was out-rebounded by 6.9 RPG.
“We’re improved in that area,” Gillen said. “But we’re still a little undersized so rebounding is still a concern.”
The ability for the Minnesota guards to get the ball up-court in the face of the Cavaliers’ press-happy defense will also be key. Virginia boasts 67 steals this season: 13.4 per game.
Against an occasional press by Morehead State the Gophers coughed the ball up 20 times.
More taking on the glass, less giving away on the floor. Sounds like standard basketball strategy. But in this case, Monson’s assessment has a air of urgency.
“If you turn the ball over 20 times and give up 19 offensive rebounds against Virginia,” Monson said, “forget it.”

David La Vaque covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]