USA Today

The balance of the Golden Gopher basketball team has led them to 5-0

Remember when the expression of an 11-2 Gopher basketball non-conference season was met with ridicule and jokes? Now 11-2 seems like the minimum. It’s been a great start to the year.

“I thought, defensively, 28 percent in the first half was terrific,” said Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino.  “We guarded the three. (Dusty) Hannahs is one of the best three point shooters in the country, so we did a really good job on him.

“Offensively, our balance has continued to be a great strength for us. Nate Mason is just being so solid for us, seven assists. We had some turnovers at the end that we needed to take care of, but any time you're winning by double digits versus a good SEC team with talent, we're proud of it.”

Mason scored 13 points with seven assists making all of his free throws (five), a couple treys, but had the four turnovers against Arkansas.  Joining Mason in double figures was Amir Coffey (19), Eric Curry (12), Akeem Springs (11), and Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch with ten.

"They feel good about themselves,” said Pitino of his 5-0 Gophers.  “I think they beat a really good Texas-Arlington team. They beat a much improved St. John's team. Arkansas will be in the thick of it in the SEC, so they should be confident. They've worked hard.

“They've stayed humble throughout the tough offseason. They've been eager to prove themselves on and off the court. Very proud of these guys. They deserve success right now and they're getting it."

The rebounding efforts are still not good enough (gave up 16 offensive boards and lost the ball outright 38-30) but they forced 21 turnovers from the Hogs, limited them to 1 of 8 shooting at the arc, and the Gopher defense allowed only 9 of the 32 first half shots to fall.

“(Defending the three) has not been a strength of ours so we really addressed it,” Pitino said.  “That's normally on the guards, but if they set up all the screens, it's on the bigs. I thought we, from a scouting report standpoint, did a really good job on those guys."

One of those excellent defenders was senior Akeem Springs who also hit three first half treys and scored on a backcut.  Reggie Lynch out  played potential first round pick Moses Kinglsey when the game mattered (both scored ten points and blocked three shots).

"I think (Reggie and I) bring it, but what the team went through last year matured everyone, so I think if you don't look at the classification, we have a mature group of guys,” said Springs.

“What they went through last year, you can either fold under it or mature from it and I think, as a group we're all mature. Reggie and I have been through more games maybe, but I think we're all mature."

The Gophers fell behind three scores early but then exploded on a 25-4 run that changed the momentum of the contest.

"Our last couple games we went on big runs like that,” Mason said.  “It was definitely good to get going and our defense sparked. In the second half, we kind of got away from our defensive strategies. We kind of let them drive middle a little bit."

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson was grumpy in defeat but he did compliment the home squad on their performance.

“I'll give Minnesota credit with packing their defense,” Anderson said.  “We didn't do anything on the inside so it allowed them to also press our perimeter, so let's give them some credit.

“But when you turn the ball over, that is one thing we pride ourselves on taking care of the basketball and we dug a hole, that is what took place, we dug a big hole. They made shots.  I thought they were incredible.”

The Gophers will take today off before film and practice Thanksgiving morning.  Friday night Minnesota welcomes Southern Illinois to The Barn. 

The Salukis are 3-2 on the year with losses to Wright State (85-81) and Arkansas (90-65) but wins over Missouri Southern State, SIUE, and Mount St. Mary’s. 

Gopher Illustrated Top Stories