Playing on the heels of the resignations of top officials in the men’s athletics department, the Gophers basketball team wanted to set a new tone Saturday.
Try something along the lines of “Shiny, happy people.”
Anxious to put the troubles of the past eight months behind them, there was no mistaking the changing of the guard while Minnesota strolled past Texas-Arlington 90-62 at Williams Arena on Saturday.
“A priority of mine has been that this team has fun this year,” coach Dan Monson said. “The things these kids have been through, if any team in America deserves to have some fun on the court this year and enjoy basketball, it’s these kids.”
The good times got rolling thanks to the scoring tandem of Dusty Rychart and John-Blair Bickerstaff. Rychart poured in 16 points and snatched 10 rebounds in the first half while Bickerstaff added 13 points.
The Gophers were up on the Mustangs 43-31 at the half, and were propelled to the finish by Kevin Burleson, who scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half.
But Saturday wasn’t as much about the basketball game as it was about getting past the nagging scandal that has loomed over the men’s basketball program.
“Obviously it’s a good feeling; it’s been a long time for these kids to play that first game,” Monson said. “Like I told these kids, no matter what, this time when we’re together, they can’t take that away from us.”
Sophomore center Joel Przybilla started the game on the bench because of his several-day absence last week. Once in the game, Przybilla blocked nine Texas-Arlington shots. But maybe most importantly, he had a good time.
“When you step on that court it’s all about basketball,” Przybilla said. “We were enjoying ourselves, and that’s what basketball is all about.”
After the game was over, the Gophers made a move unheard of by former-coach Clem Haskins’ standards.
The team slowly, almost sheepishly, walked over to the basket near the student section. When the band started playing the Minnesota rouser, the team clapped along with the smattering of remaining fans.
Just another change from Monson. With the team’s image tarnished, Monson and the team are putting an emphasis on getting back in touch with the fans.
“Definitely, we do the rouser because we want to connect with the fans and students because we’re students too,” Rychart said.
It wasn’t like that last year, was it Dusty?
“No, it wasn’t really,” Rychart said. “Dan’s a great guy, a people’s person and we want to be a people’s team.”
Among those people doing the rouser Saturday at the Barn was University President Mark Yudof.
“I was happy to see 14,600 people here and he was one of them,” Monson said. “We don’t have a lot of administration left so it’s good to see him.”
Jim Schortemeyer is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]