Minnesota preps for Syracuse in first round of Maui Invitational

The Gophers beat up on Wofford and will now face their toughest test yet.

Senior guard Austin Hollins scores a two point shot against Wofford on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Image by Lisa Persson

Senior guard Austin Hollins scores a two point shot against Wofford on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013, at Williams Arena.

by Jace Frederick

Gophers head coach Richard Pitino is no stranger to No. 9 Syracuse, Minnesota’s first-round opponent in the Maui Invitational.

While he’s never faced the Orange as a head coach, Pitino has been on the opposing bench from Syracuse Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim six times. Pitino’s teams are 3-3 in those six meetings.

That familiarity helps with preparation for Monday’s matchup.

“[Boeheim] does the same thing year-in and year-out,” Pitino said. “He does what he does, and he sticks to it. And he’s great at it. He’s one of the best in the game.”

This matchup with Syracuse marks the first contest in a three-games-in-three-days stretch for the Gophers. Pitino said tournaments like the Maui Invitational provide a lot of distractions for a team.

“It’s unbelievable when you get there,” he said. “It’s just a challenge. You’ve got to fight more mentally some issues than physically.”

This game with Syracuse — a Final Four team a year ago — is one fans have looked forward to since the schedule came out, but the Gophers have been careful not to look ahead.

There’s no need for that anymore. The game is staring the players in the face.

It’s undoubtedly the Gophers’ biggest test so far.

“That’s a little more than a test,” Gophers junior center Elliott Eliason said. “That’s a great team year-in and year-out. It’s always good to be able to measure yourself against someone like that. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Gophers defeat Wofford

The Gophers’ battle with Wofford on Thursday night served as Minnesota’s final tune-up before heading to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational.

The Gophers appeared to be firing on all cylinders in their 79-57 win over the Terriers.

“We wanted to [head into Maui] on the right note,” senior guard Austin Hollins said after Thursday’s game. “I think we handled our business tonight.”

Minnesota clamped down defensively after an uninspiring effort in its 82-72 win over Coastal Carolina on Tuesday. The Gophers held Wofford to 31 percent shooting.

“It was just great team defense,” Hollins said. “I think we were communicating a lot better. We were a lot more active with our hands. We were forcing turnovers.”

The Gophers jumped on Wofford early in the game and built a 24-2 lead eight minutes into the game.

And unlike earlier games this season, Minnesota didn’t take its foot off the accelerator.

“Coach just preached to us that we couldn’t come out flat,” senior guard Malik Smith said. “We really just worked on getting better with the little things today.”

Austin Hollins led the Gophers with 18 points. Oto Osenieks followed close behind with a new career-high 14 points — topping his 13-point mark set in the win over Coastal Carolina.

“I just love the confidence that he’s playing with right now,” Pitino said of Osenieks. “I keep telling him, ‘Don’t worry about anything. Just play aggressively.’ He’s showing that.”

Eliason finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks against Wofford, nearly missing out on a triple-double.