Versatile UNC-Asheville squad could trouble men’s hoops

by Jabari Ritchie

Minnesota’s men’s basketball team dominated its season opener over Mercer on Saturday, but the Gophers see plenty of room for improvement as they host North Carolina-Asheville on Wednesday night.

Minnesota (1-0) is looking for more consistent play from its backcourt and more team focus when it takes on the Bulldogs (0-2), who lost to both West Virginia and North Carolina-Greensboro by 26 points.

“The team played great in the first half and then we kind of fell asleep in the second,” freshman forward Rick Rickert said about being outscored in the second half of Saturday’s game. “We’ve just got to keep our focus throughout the whole game and make sure that we do the things we’re supposed to do.”

On Saturday, Rickert and the rest of the frontcourt carried the Gophers’ offense. Minnesota’s forwards accounted for 63 of 80 points, 6 of 9 three-pointers and had all but four of the Gophers’ field goals.

Four forwards ñ Rickert, Michael Bauer, Dusty Rychart and Jerry Holman ñ scored at least 10 points while starting guards Kevin Burleson and Kerwin Fleming shot just 23 percent.

“Our frontcourt’s doing really well,” Burleson said. “We’re coming kind of slow scoring-wise because we’re still trying to figure out what we need to do to be successful.

“Right now we’re looking to get the frontcourt established and we’re going to come along and our shooting’s going to get better. Some games you don’t shoot well and some games you do. As long as we’re winning it’s going to be fine.”

While he made just one of five field goal attempts ñ all from three-point range ñ Burleson had four assists, three rebounds and two steals.

With forwards like Rickert and Bauer making three-pointers, Minnesota’s guards may look to other statistics than points throughout the year.

“It’s totally different, but I guess that’s something we’ve got to adjust to,” Fleming said. “We’ve got a lot of versatile big men that can shoot it from deep range. We’ve got to realize that they’re going to take some shots too.”

Besides their internal concerns, the Gophers expect to find a challenge in North Carolina-Asheville’s versatility.

“They have a lot of interchangeable parts,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said before Tuesday’s practice. “They play their guys in four or five different spots, which is going to be difficult matching up for us.”

The Gophers matched up well with Mercer, using their size and athleticism to hold the Bears to just 18 first-half points. Monson said this could be a tougher task Wednesday.

“We’re a team right now that, with our size and stuff, has got to rely on having the right match-ups,” he said. “They’re going to make it difficult for that to happen. In that sense, it’s going to be a good game for us.”

ï Senior forward Travarus Bennett, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee two weeks ago, is making progress after playing 15 minutes on Saturday.

Bennett, who had one point and four assists, could get more minutes against the Bulldogs.

“He can give us more,” Monson said. “He’s pretty well back. He’s been sore from having not played and he’s just getting back in shape now.”

Jabari Ritchie covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]