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Richard Pitino's Halftime Defensive Adjustment Sparks Gophers to Win over UT-Arlington

Minnesota’s three games in five days stretch started last night with an important win over Sun Belt favorite Texas-Arlington.

“Obviously, that was a really, really good win,” Richard Pitino said.  “That was the one, when we scheduled, that we had it in mind. With a tournament team coming here, for us to do we did, from a defense stand point in second half.”

The Gopher defense in the first half was poor.  The Mavericks hit 9 of 18 threes in the first half, but then made just one of eight in half two.  Minnesota’s activity improved in all ways including their fight over screens, effort in closing out, and presence in the passing lanes.

Minnesota dominated the glass with a 47-32 difference led by the 11 point and 12 rebound double-double effort from Jordan Murphy plus the seven boards from both Eric Curry and Nate Mason.

“(Last year they were) one of the best rebound teams in the country, and we are plus 15 on the glass,” Pitino said.  “I think we went on a 28-3 run.

“Just to do all this right, I think it shows that obviously this is not last year’s team, and it’s a totally different team with much more balance, which had six guys with double figures. It’s a fun team to coach.”

Reggie Lynch had 14 points, five boards, and three blocks in only 16 minutes of play, Mason had 13 points, the seven boards, and seven assists, and Dupree McBrayer scored 13 points with four assists.  Add in the Murphy double-double, Amir Coffey had ten, and Curry scored a dozen.  This is exactly the balance the Gophers need to have a big season.

Richard Pitino changed defensive strategy at the half and his decision allowed his versatile defenders to be in better position to make defensive plays,

“They made a great adjustment by switching the ball screens,” Arlington Head Coach Scott Cross said.  “Their big guys did a good job sitting down and keeping Erick (Neal) out of the paint. Once that happened we stopped moving the ball.

“We started pounding and started sticking and next thing you know, we are taking bad shots and contested layups. We couldn't score on them. There was a stretch for 10 minutes that where we absolutely couldn't score on them. They did a great job on us."

Minnesota’s second half run included a second half stretch of 28 Gopher points to only three for the Mavericks. 

“Honestly, I didn’t know the run was that big until after the game,” Lynch explained.  “We were just out there playing free, guarding the three, which was the biggest problem in the first half and continued to rebound, which was main emphasis for this game. So it's really just an adjustment to be free.”

Maverick lead guard Erick Neal scored a dozen points in the first half, none in half number two.  Most credit goes to the effort of Nate Mason but the entire team had a hand in slowing both Neal’s attack to the rim, and his effort to return to the ball after the initial pass.

Minnesota born Reggie Lynch and Amir Coffey took turns making an individual run of plays in the second half that built the Gopher momentum. 

"Reggie brings the toughness to the team,” McBrayer said.  “He is getting used to the Big Ten because he had to sit out last year, so game by game he is just getting better and Amir is doing the same by getting better and more confident. I think he needs to be a little more aggressive, but that is what freshmen do.

“I remember doing the same thing last thing year by doing the same mistakes, but that is why I am here to help.”

McBrayer started his freshman year with a consistent shooting struggle from November nearly to the end of January.  Everything has changed this year as Dupree is hitting a high percentage of his attempts through the five competitive outings (team scrimmage, exhibitions, regular season games).

“My confidence is too high right now,” Dupree said.  “I think I can make every shot.”

That confidence has helped the Gophers win their first two games of the season.  Next up? Mount St. Mary’s.  “The Mount” is 0-2 so far with a 28 point loss at West Virginia and an 18 point loss in Ames against Iowa State. 

Mt. St. Mary’s actually starts their season with a nine game road stretch that includes five high major teams.  They are coming off a 14-19 season and are projected to finish 4th among ten in the NEC.

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