Guard play struggles in loss to Michigan

Gophers starting guards scored 18 points combined in defeat.

Redshirt sophomore Eric Curry attempts to score on Thursday, Feb. 21 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

Elle Moulin

Redshirt sophomore Eric Curry attempts to score on Thursday, Feb. 21 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.

by Paul Hodowanic

In need of another signature win on their NCAA tournament resume, the Gophers (17-10, 7-9 Big Ten) took on the No. 7 ranked Wolverines (24-3, 13-3 Big Ten), but came up short. 

The Gophers lost 69-60 as Minnesota’s guards struggled to get in an offensive rhythm.

Its trio of starting guards, Amir Coffey, Dupree McBrayer and Gabe Kalscheur, combined to score 18 points on 6-27 shooting, including going 0-14 in the first half with only two points among the group.

“We were just trying to get fouled instead of moving the ball,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “They were losing confidence in their outside shot, so the next thing they were trying to do was just duck their [heads]. It’s very similar to a lot of our other games where we’ve gone cold.”

The team attempted four free throws in the first half and combined to shoot 1-10 from long range for the game. 

Coffey represented the Gophers’ struggles at guard. The team’s leading scorer entering the game finished with 6 points on 2-14 shooting. 

“He was trying to get fouled,” said Pitino. “I talked to him about it at halftime and said ‘You’re driving in there and they are just walling you up.’ I think it was everybody, it wasn’t just Amir.”

Coffey stumbled out of the gate, missing all 10 of his first-half shot attempts. The junior didn’t register a point until 18:58 to go in the second half. 

“I just told him to stay confident, just keep being aggressive,” senior Jordan Murphy said. “He was getting to the basket pretty well, they just weren’t falling and he just wasn’t getting [fouls] called.”

Minnesota looked primed for a second-half run after Kalscheur hit a three and McBrayer stole the ball on next possession and dunked it. This cut the deficit to 13 and forced a Michigan timeout. However, big shots by Michigan down the stretch were too much for the Gophers to overcome.

Kalscheur’s 3-pointer was the only successful shot from beyond the arc for the Gophers in the entire game.

It was an unexpected performance for the trio after one of their best offensive performances of the season against Indiana. Against the Hoosiers, Kalscheur finished with 20 points, Coffey added 18 and McBrayer put up 10 points.  

“Same place, same players. It’s just a matter of getting back in the gym and getting confident,” Pitino said. “We seemed frustrated today, where against Indiana we did not.”

The Gophers will head back on the road to face Rutgers, a team they beat 88-70 on Jan. 12. The guard trio combined for 55 points, 29 coming from Coffey, in the first matchup. They will look to return to that same success. 

“We have four more games before the conference tournament. They don’t end it early, so we are excited about Rutgers,” Pitino said.