Pitino alters style during struggles

Head coach Richard Pitino has been trying to block out negativity.

Head basketball coach Richard Pitino signals to his players from the sidelines at the Williams Arena against Nebraska on Saturday evening.

Image by Liam James Doyle

Head basketball coach Richard Pitino signals to his players from the sidelines at the Williams Arena against Nebraska on Saturday evening.

by Jack Satzinger

Minnesota is 10 games into its conference season, and hardly anything has been constant.

Andre Hollins went from a slumping shooter to a do-it-all leader whom Richard Pitino calls “the heart and soul” of his team. Mo Walker and Carlos Morris dominate one game and look flummoxed in the next. Nate Mason and DeAndre Mathieu have flipped roles twice.

Amid the turbulence and single-digit defeats, even Pitino has slightly altered his coaching style to be more positive and increase his players’ confidence.

“Our biggest thing is let’s just worry about today, and let’s just control what we can control and block out all the noise — ignore all the noise and just stay together and grow closer and get better,” Pitino said.

Part of blocking out the noise is ignoring what fans are saying on social media. After Minnesota’s 60-42 victory against Nebraska on Saturday, Mathieu described how his Twitter usage has changed this year as losses have piled up.

“In the past I was always on Twitter,” he said.

Mathieu’s girlfriend, Charisma Payne, sometimes searches his name on the social media platform to see what people are saying about him.

But now, Mathieu isn’t even allowed to check.

Pitino recently instituted a no-Twitter policy for the Gophers after multiple players read negative tweets about their 0-5 start to conference play.

Building up his players’ confidence has been more than just banning Twitter use, though.

Pitino isn’t afraid to yell at Mason or Joey King when they pass up wide-open shots. If Walker plays poorly, sometimes the coach teases the redshirt senior center about it in practice.

He’s been blatantly honest about Mathieu’s lack of size being a weakness in Big Ten play.

“When we play big teams, he’s small,” Pitino said last month.

But for the most part, the coach has laid off the sarcasm and has tried to rally his troops.

“He’s been extremely positive. A lot more positive than you’d think,” Mathieu said. “He’s just telling the guys, ‘Keep working, stay together and be a team.’ That’s what we’re trying to do.”

That message has been especially important for Mathieu, who has been moved from starter to the bench and back.

“We’ve moved past Ohio State and Iowa. … I’ve never seen so many close losses in such a duration,” Pitino said. “So that’s trying, and it’s difficult to coach because you can’t really get on them because everybody else is getting on them. So you’ve got to get their confidence back.”

The postgame locker room is no longer characterized by whispered answers to interview questions. After the Gophers’ three conference victories, players celebrated in the dressing room with flashing multi-colored lights and music blasting as reporters entered. 

“We weren’t really down,” Hollins said of his team’s psyche during the losing streak. “We were just like, ‘God, things really aren’t going our way.’”

Despite a 3-7 conference start, Mathieu and others seem to think they have a run in them.

Perhaps the coach’s message is sinking in.

“If we can just stack wins on top of wins, we could really get this thing going,” Mathieu said. “If we continue to defend like we did today, we could definitely make a good run. A big run.”