Pitino positive amid woes

The Gophers will take on No. 20 Iowa at home on Tuesday night.

Minnesota head men's basketball coach Richard Pitino answers questions at his introductory press conference April 5, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Daily File Photo; Jaak Jensen

Minnesota head men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino answers questions at his introductory press conference April 5, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Jace Frederick

Gophers head coach Richard Pitino has the moxy of well-known life coach Tony Robbins.

He might not have the books, the movie cameos or the goatee Robbins has, but the head coach definitely has the mindset. Pitino’s glass always seems to be half-full.

Though his team laid two eggs against Illinois and Ohio State, Pitino said he was excited to get back on the court for the battle with No. 20 Iowa on Tuesday night.

The Gophers’ last two losses flipped them to the wrong side of the postseason bubble — they currently sit in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s “First Four Out” of the NCAA tournament.

But Pitino sees Minnesota’s predicament as an opportunity.

“At the beginning of the season, if you had told me: Three games to go, you’ve got two home games left and you’ve got an opportunity to be on the bubble, I’m saying, ‘Where do I sign?,’” Pitino said.

From the sounds of it, his players are on board as well.

“I think the guys in the locker room right now believe that we’ve put ourselves in a good position, and we’re excited moving forward,” Pitino said.

Minnesota is in a better position to make the Big Dance late in the season than many expected. Still, the team doesn’t seem ripe to take advantage of it.

The Gophers have failed to reach the 50-point mark in each of their last two games. They’re consistently turning the ball over and missing jump shots.

Still, Pitino doesn’t think it’s an execution problem. He sees it as a mindset problem.

“So much of it is mental,” he said. “Do you believe when you get the ball you’re going to make the shot …? Or do you believe you’re going to miss the shot?”

On the offensive end, the Gophers represent the latter. They seem to seriously lack confidence, even with their head coach’s positivity.

“I just told them before yesterday’s practice it’s not really complicated; we’ve just got to work really, really hard,” Pitino said. “That’s the way you get your confidence back.”

Minnesota showed that work ethic in Sunday’s practice — a day after the Ohio State loss.

Gophers junior center Elliott Eliason got a bloody nose from catching an elbow to his face, and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu grappled with cramps. Still, both players pushed to get themselves back onto the floor as quickly as possible.

“It was pretty intense,” said freshman guard Daquein McNeil. “We were going at it like it was a game. … It was fun.”

The Gophers don’t seem interested in dwelling on their mistakes, and Pitino won’t let them.

“We’re just upset with losing,” McNeil said. “We want to fix every mistake that we have.”

Those mistakes need to be fixed — and quickly. The Gophers have three games left on the schedule and likely need to win at least two of them to make the NCAA tournament.

As the life coach Tony Robbins is quoted as saying, “it is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”

The Gophers’ moment of decision is now upon them. Regardless of the past, they’re likely to have a solid mindset heading into the stretch run.

“We know we can hang with any team in the country,” said junior guard Andre Hollins. “I think it’s great to have these games at the end of the season. It’s crunch time.”