Minnesota heads to first away game under Molinari

To win, the Gophers will have to find a way to break a full-court press.

by Zach Eisendrath

According to interim coach Jim Molinari, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team has a lot of work to do to turn its season around.

Some permanent changes Molinari plans to make – such as a defensive-minded identity – were on display in Saturday’s 66-63 win over Arizona State. But more changes should be on display tonight when the Gophers travel to Birmingham, Ala. to take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham in their first road game in a hostile environment this season.

“We need to change in a lot of areas,” Molinari said. “That’s the only way we are going to make this season successful.”

Although there aren’t any quick fixes, Molinari said Minnesota will attack its problems the only way he knows how – with urgency.

Priority number one for the Gophers (3-5 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) will be learning how to successfully break the full-court pressure teams have been using against them as of late.

After being flustered with the press the last two games, Molinari said he expects to see it again tonight.

“After seeing how we dealt with the press, they probably won’t want to press us,” Molinari joked. “We probably put some fear into them Ö I thought I’d get a call to do a press clinic, but it didn’t happen.”

Molinari said the Blazers (4-3, 0-0 Conference USA) aren’t a pressing team as much as they are a pressuring team, meaning their defensive pressure won’t occur just in a full-court press.

Sophomore guard Jamal Abu-Shamala said the team just needs to make better decisions with the ball to overcome its troubles against the press.

“I think we just need to be more aggressive,” he said. “Once we break the press, we need to attack, instead of being passive. We need to move the ball instead of dribbling it so much and just find the open guy and make the easy pass.”

Priority number two for Minnesota is to fix its defensive holes, mainly in regards to rebounding.

The Gophers were better in both areas Saturday, but still had defensive breakdowns late in the game and were out-rebounded by 10.

To repair that problem, Molinari paired sophomore center Jonathan Williams with junior center Spencer Tollackson down low Saturday to stop being taken advantage of in the post. More of the same can be expected tonight, Molinari said.

“The one thing (you need to do) to get on the floor for (Molinari) is you have to play defense,” Williams said. “If you can’t play defense, if he feels you’re a liability, it doesn’t matter how many points you can score.”

Defense will be crucial to stopping UAB’s fast paced attack.

The Blazers, like Minnesota, are coming off a dramatic win. UAB knocked off Cincinnati on Saturday when junior guard Paul Delaney nailed a runner in the game’s closing seconds.

Delaney is one of many Blazers flourishing under new coach Mike Davis, who coached the previous six seasons in the Big Ten at Indiana.

Delaney is averaging 19.3 points, 6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game, making him UAB’s biggest threat.

But, before worrying about any specific players on certain teams, Molinairi said he is focused on changing the attitude of a team, which, at times, has appeared to lack chemistry on the court.

“I worry about (the players) being open to change, surrendering their individual agendas for the group goal,” Molinari said.

“That’s what you have to do to have a successful team and that’s going to be the struggle day-to-day.”