Pitino unable to look ahead to future games

The Gophers won on Friday and will play North Dakota on Monday night.

Jack Satzinger

Richard Pitino can’t afford to look ahead.

Not when his team is second-worst at rebounding in its conference. Not when he has to implement a matchup zone defense if Carlos Morris isn’t on the floor in order to avoid mismatches. Not when it takes a heated halftime speech from the second-year head coach for Minnesota to get past Western Carolina.

The Gophers are dangerous, but their flaws are obvious. This is so evident that after Minnesota topped the Catamounts on Friday and Pitino was asked about his team’s next opponent, North Dakota, he didn’t know what to say.

He doesn’t have time to look ahead to future games, because he’s too busy fixing his team’s problems.

“I know nothing about North Dakota,” Pitino said. “I’ll give you a quote if you like. I don’t know.”

Before Daquein McNeil was indefinitely suspended from all team activity, the Gophers were a mediocre rebounding team. Now, with their matchup zone, things are starting to get worse.

Western Carolina was outrebounding Minnesota 19-4 at one point Friday. The Gophers eventually lost the rebounding battle 34-26.

Senior guard Andre Hollins said the team needed to tighten up on rebounding out of its zone.

Now that Morris is the only true small forward on the roster, Minnesota’s backups at the position are either the undersized Hollins and Nate Mason or oversized, less nimble power forwards Charles Buggs and Joey King.

Pitino implemented the zone defense to hide any mismatches that could arise from the odd lineups.

“When you play like a Charles Buggs at the three or a Joey King at the three, I don’t like playing those guys straight up man-to-man,” Pitino said.

It’s much more difficult for a team to rebound out of a zone, where there is no specific man each player needs to box out. But for the Gophers, the lack of rebounding has been more than that.

“It just came down to us being physical,” Morris said. “[We’ve] got to do it.”

Despite using its pressure defense to force turnovers at will, Minnesota went into the halftime of the Western Carolina game up by only one point.  Pitino then walked down to Minnesota’s locker room and laid into his players.

“I yelled at them. Very, very loudly. And they responded. I didn’t think our effort was great. I didn’t think our energy was great,” Pitino said.

Morris said Pitino’s halftime speech fired up the team, leading the Gophers to outscore Western Carolina by 19 points in the second half.

Minnesota will try to carry that energy into Monday night’s game against North Dakota.

“If we could just take care of all the little things, we could really be playing some great basketball,” Pitino said. “Now we’ve got to rebound. … There’s no reason why we can’t do it. It’s not like we’re too small.”