Column: Gophers’ success against Louisville hinges on defense

David Nelson

When the Gophers men’s basketball squad steps onto the court inside the Coast Guard’s Air Station Borinquen on Friday night, the team faces the daunting task of stopping No. 8 Louisville’s potent offense.

Louisville’s attack ranked eighth in the NCAA last season and produced more than 82 points per contest.

This could be trouble for Minnesota, which has looked inconsistent defensively in both its intrasquad scrimmage and in its exhibition contest.

The Gophers allowed 68 points against a Division II team in Thursday night’s exhibition game against Minnesota-Duluth.

Despite that number, head coach Richard Pitino didn’t seem too concerned with the team’s defensive performance.

“We didn’t get as many steals as I would like,” Pitino said. “But I thought we were really aggressive.”

The Gophers pressed and trapped UMD for much of the contest, posting five steals by the end of the 40 minutes.

However, the Bulldogs boasted a 45.5 field goal percentage over the course of the second half, putting up 43 points in the process.

UMD found a way to get inside the paint against the Gophers, and had Minnesota not been able to shoot almost 60 percent from the field, this game might have been closer.

Pitino acknowledged in his postgame press conference, though, that things might have gone more favorably for the Gophers defensively had freshman guard Nate Mason been able to play.

“Not having Nate is hard,” Pitino said. “Just because of his injury, you don’t have a lot of backcourt depth. I want to get these guys to the point where they’re totally going all-out that they need a sub.”

Minnesota will need that sort of depth when it takes on Louisville this weekend.

The Cardinals hit almost half of the shots they took last season — establishing a 47.4 field goal percentage, good enough for 33rd best in the country.

But perhaps the most worrisome numbers for the Gophers came from a secret scrimmage against No. 14 Iowa State on Nov. 2.

Per a report by the Ames Tribune, Iowa State won 103-78.

None of this means Minnesota will be a poor defensive team this coming season.

On the contrary, as Pitino said after the team’s exhibition game, the Gophers have the right personnel to run an aggressive style of defense.

Once this team gets healthy and its young players get comfortable, the improvements stopping the ball should be drastic.

But with their first game coming up against one of the best offensive teams in the country, it’s difficult to foresee a scenario in which the Gophers can contain the Cardinals’ very skilled lineup.