Rick Rickert is one of the most highly touted recruits to ever play for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team.
But did anyone expect the freshman forward to mature so quickly?
“It is always a matter of when,” said coach Dan Monson. “You know Rick is going to be a very good player. You know he has the ability to play at the next level. It’s just a matter of how long his adjustment takes.”
Rickert accelerated his development on Monday night leading the Gophers to a 75-72 win over Oregon before 12,610 people at Williams Arena and a national TV audience.
“I am really feeling comfortable,” Rickert said. “You really have to come in and play with confidence if you want to be successful. I was really enjoying it out there. My teammates were getting me the ball. It was a great game to get our confidence and pull out a close win.”
Rickert recorded game-highs with 28 points and nine rebounds as Minnesota (5-3) won for the first time in three games.
“I am really happy for our guys,” Monson said. “You can have meetings and work hard in practice but it all comes down to winning basketball games. Hopefully this will help them get some confidence back. They were rewarded with a win and hopefully that will springboard them.”
The Gophers started out quickly, scoring the first 12 points of the game. Led by Rickert, Minnesota used a solid combination of inside and outside scoring.
But Minnesota, wanting to establish a stronger inside presence, instead reverted back to long jumpshots.
During the Gophers game-opening 12-0 run, Minnesota was 3-5 from the three-point line but went 0-11 the remaining 16 minutes of the first half.
“That is difficult to withstand,” Monson said. “We had some lapses again but competed throughout.”
With the Ducks (4-3) holding a five-point lead, Minnesota battled to regain the advantage at 33-32 with a Rickert jumper. But a running layup by guard James Davis as time expired gave Oregon the lead going into the break.
The Ducks began the second half by stretching their lead to seven in the first 2:41. But when Oregon’s lead hit nine, the Gophers finally awoke. After blowing a late lead at Wake Forest and playing halfway through a loss to UNC-Wilmington, Minnesota displayed a steady pulse in the second half.
“We battled back as a team,” forward Mike Bauer said. “In the past couple of games we didn’t battle. Tonight we were there to pick each other up and we trusted each other to play well and we got the job done.”
Minnesota went on an 11-1 run fueled once again by Rickert. Rickert scored five of the 11 points including a ferocious two-hand dunk to give the Gophers a 60-59 lead and awaken the dormant home crowd.
A three-pointer by Davis gave the Ducks a brief two-point advantage but a 14-4 Gopher run sealed Oregon’s fate.
“It was very important to get this win,” Bauer said. “Going on two losses, another one could have spiraled us down but everybody came together and we got our confidence back.”
Minnesota hosts Maryland-Eastern Shore on Thursday hoping to build a winning streak and further the maturation of its 18-year-old prodigy.
Brian Hall covers men’s basketball and welcomes
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