Gophers still have a ways to go as they host Eastern Washington

Coach Tubby Smith was blunt about MinnesotaâÄôs near-loss to Colorado State on Saturday. âÄúIt exposed us in a lot of ways,âÄù Smith said. After three uninspiring wins in the NABC classic âÄî against Concordia-St. Paul, Bowling Green and Georgia State âÄî the Gophers needed a Paul Carter layup with 18.9 seconds left to beat Colorado State, avoiding a nonconference upset before facing the meat of their nonconference schedule. The lesson? The Gophers have a lot of things to correct before they face No. 3 Louisville on Dec. 20 and begin the Big Ten schedule Dec. 31. They have five straight home games leading up to the Louisville game, starting tonight against Eastern Washington. Against Colorado State, Smith said he was disappointed in the teamâÄôs defensive intensity. Granted, it was the first road game for a team with five new faces, but the team that allowed just 58.8 points per game last season gave up 71 to the Rams. Some of it had to do with foul trouble in the post. True freshman center Colton Iverson had three fouls in the first half and fouled out with less than a minute left, while both center Ralph Sampson III and power forward Damian Johnson finished with three. It was a headache for Smith, who has said he would prefer not to play Sampson and Iverson at the same time but was forced to because of senior center Jonathan WilliamsâÄô groin injury. âÄúWeâÄôre shorthanded with big guys right now,âÄù sophomore Blake Hoffarber, who led the Gophers with 20 points Saturday, said. âÄúThose young guys are doing well so far, but we just need them to stay in the game.âÄù Iverson or Sampson fouling out means small forwards like Johnson, Carter and Travis Busch have to move over to the center position, creating mismatches underneath. âÄúWe have to stop reaching and making silly fouls, cause it makes guys move over to positions theyâÄôre not comfortable with,âÄù Johnson said. Smith was unhappy that the teamâÄôs first six shots were three-pointers, five of which missed. The Gophers are second-to-last in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (.429), and that will only change with better shot selection, Smith said. âÄúShoot your open shots, but if youâÄôre missing, you have to know when to try to go to the basket and get fouled, or get an easy bucket here or there, so you can get your rhythm and start hitting outside shots,âÄù Hoffarber said. Eastern Washington, which is one of the weaker teams in the mid-major Big Sky Conference, makes for a good opponent for working these kinks out. They finished second-to-last in the Big Sky Conference in both scoring and opponents field goal percentage last season. âÄúThe schedule has been built so that we learn things about ourselves,âÄù Smith said. âÄúGames get tougher and now guys have to play better; as simple as that. We have to get better.âÄù