Column: Pitino deserves credit for improvements, ya feel me?

by Samuel Gordon

One is listed at 5-foot-9. The other is listed at 6-foot-10.

One is the smallest guy on the team. The other is the second-biggest.

Both were phenomenal Wednesday night in the Gophers’ 81-68 win over No. 9 Wisconsin.

Both stepped up in the wake of an ankle injury to All-Big Ten guard Andre Hollins on the first possession of the game.

And both DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker are a reflection of their head coach.

Richard Pitino picked a hell of a night to turn in his most impressive coaching performance to date.

Without Hollins, Pitino turned the offense over to Mathieu, the point guard he recruited, and Walker, the center he developed.

They didn’t let their head coach down.

Walker posted a career-high 18 points, and Mathieu equaled that total.

Mathieu’s outstanding play is a reflection of Pitino’s in-game coaching — of the system he has installed both offensively and defensively.

Under Tubby Smith, the Gophers were lethargic offensively. It was basketball anarchy.

Under Pitino, there’s fluidity on the offensive end. And on Wednesday, Mathieu was a picture-perfect representation of that.

There were no long-range bombs, no pass-and-jacks — the types of shots Gophers fans have been accustomed to seeing in recent years.

The ball moved, and as a result, the Gophers shot nearly 59 percent from the field.

Mathieu facilitated. He attacked the basket. He knocked down his open jump shots.

He and Pitino countered whatever Wisconsin was doing defensively.

In turn, Minnesota got high-percentage looks offensively — all game long.

Walker was an absolute beast in the first half. And he’s already improved more in nine months under Pitino than he did in three years under Smith.

That speaks volumes about Pitino’s player development. The best coaches in the country all develop their players.

Wisconsin, a top-10 team, has just one blue-chip recruit on their roster: forward Sam Dekker.

But because of the way Bo Ryan develops his players, Wisconsin is a top team in the Big Ten year in and year out.

Pitino got the most out of Walker on Wednesday. All year, he’s been getting the most out of Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks.

Eliason said postgame that Pitino stresses individual player development.

“We do morning individuals every day,” Eliason said. “I don’t think a lot of [teams] do that. … And then we come back and practice in the afternoon.”

Still, Pitino deferred the credit in his press conference.

“They deserve all the credit. Those guys. They made themselves into really good players,” he said.

That may be so, but Pitino has a little something to do it, too.

Ya feel me?