Gophers lose to elder Pitino on big stage

Senior guard Andre Hollins led the team with 22 points in the game.

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins pushes the ball up the court against Coastal Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Daily File Photo, Holly Peterson

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins pushes the ball up the court against Coastal Carolina on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013 at Williams Arena.

Jack Satzinger

When the Gophers lost to Louisville 81-68 in the Armed Forces Classic on Friday night during primetime on ESPN, they got an unusual amount of exposure.

Before the contest, head coach Richard Pitino downplayed the game’s major storyline — he was coaching against his father, Rick Pitino — and focused on the opportunity it presented his team.

“That game is good for us because it gets people talking about Minnesota. And in the end, it’s all about recruiting and it’s all about brand,” he said last month. “Now they’re going to talk about Minnesota on the first day of college basketball. That’s good for us.”

What wasn’t good for them was the end result, which showed the Gophers still have a long way to go if they’re going to contend with Big Ten powers, like this season’s Wisconsin.

The team looked lost offensively for a good chunk of the game. On top of that, the Gophers couldn’t stop fouling.

The Gophers (0-1) fouled the No. 8 Cardinals 18 times in the first half alone.

“[We] kept fouling, kept sending them to the line and then not making our free throws,” Richard Pitino told 1500 ESPN after the game. “When we stopped fouling, we got stops.”

Minnesota showed more defensive discipline in the second half and hit its free throws at a better clip than in the first. But foul trouble took DeAndre Mathieu, Carlos Morris and others out of the game.

Morris scored five quick points to kick off the contest, but he only finished with nine points after his four fouls limited him to 22 minutes.

Mathieu, one of Minnesota’s top players last season, attempted only four shots for six points, while turning the ball over four times and finishing with as many fouls.

Joey King, who before the game said he was “ready for the challenge” of defending Louisville star Montrezl Harrell, failed to make a field goal and also picked up four fouls.

On top of that, Harrell thrashed the Gophers for a game-high 30 points — hitting 3-pointers, scoring on the low block and catching transition alley-oop passes for dunks.

“You’ve got to give Montrezl Harrell credit. Jeez, he has made himself a heck of a player,” Richard Pitino told 1500 ESPN.

While many Gophers struggled in the season opener against the Cardinals’ suffocating defense, there were some bright spots.

Mo Walker scored 10 points on an efficient 5-for-7 from the field and has improved defensively, demonstrating his capability to start at center.

Guard Nate Mason didn’t look like a true freshman going up against one of the nation’s best backcourts. He finished with 10 points and tied for a team-high five rebounds.

And after playing on a bum ankle for much of last season, Andre Hollins reassured Gophers fans that he’s back to being one of the Big Ten’s best scorers.

While others were hesitant to attack the Cardinals’ aggressive defense, Hollins went at it, hoisting up 15 shots. He hit eight of them, finishing with a team-high 22 points.

Hollins said last month that his ankle injury impacted every facet of his game. But if Friday night’s performance was any indication, he could be the Gophers’ leading scorer again this season.

While Andre Hollins has become a household name around Minnesota, the public address announcer for the Armed Forces Classic called him “Andrew Hollins” before the contest.

But after the exposure from Friday night’s game, maybe people across the country will start to know Gophers players’ names.

“I know we’ve got a long way to go. We understand that,” Richard Pitino told 1500 ESPN. “They’re a really good team. We’re not going to get too down.”