The Montana Grizzlies may have been back-to-back Big Sky champions, but they were no match for the Gophers, who used disruptive full-court defense, owned the boards and unleashed a steady barrage of three-pointers to run away with an 84-58 victory for their second straight win of the season.
The Grizzlies were expected to put up at least a semblance of a fight, and came to town employing the reigning Big Sky MVP and AP Honorable Mention All-American Kareem Jamar. And while Jamar was clearly the best player on the floor for Montana, the rest of team fell face first against a quicker, stronger and better-shooting Gopher team. Minnesota forced 9 turnovers in the first half (13 for the game) and only gave up 5 offensive rebounds to the Grizzlies, dominating the boards 45-29.
Defense was the story of the game for Minnesota, who never allowed Montana to get into a groove offensively. The full-court press worked extremely effectively and the Grizzlies continually forced up contested three-pointers the entire game, hitting only 6-22. Holding onto the ball was a problem, as the Gophers swiped 9 steals in the win.
Dre Hollins was a beast on offense for the Gophers, scoring a game-high 24 points on 8-14 shooting. Hitting two quick threes to begin the game, he never really looked back as his jumper was working all night. Dre Mathieu continued to impress and lit up the Grizzlies, flying down the court on fast breaks cutting through the lane like it was butter. When the dust settled he had 15 points and 5 assists while committing zero fouls. Austin Hollins had a quiet double-double, racking up 11 points and 10 rebounds while nabbing two steals.
Two games into the season it’s clear that Gophers can at least rout low-major teams, which is definitely nothing to scoff at. Now that we’ve got that out of the way the opponent gets progressively harder as Minnesota travels to Richmond to take on a decent mid-major. An escalation in opponent and a true road game will definitely put this team in a different position than we’ve seen, and it’s a timely challenge. While the Gophers have looked great at times against Montana and Lehigh, there are also questions about how they’ll execute against bigger, better-shooting teams. Will Dre Mathieu be as effective? Will Joey King be any sort of factor near the basket? How will Eliason respond? We know what we’re getting with the Hollinses and Eliason, but we have yet to see many of the other guys face any sort of adversity. Deficiencies become clearer as the quality of opponent increases, and we’ll no doubt notice some things that need polish during and after Saturday’s game.
Notes and Thoughts:
- I really thought Elliott Eliason would do more in this game, as he was the biggest guy on the court by far most of the time. And after dominating Lehigh to the tune of 11 points and 17 boards, he only ended up with 6 points and 8 rebounds. However, he did rack up 5 blocks and altered the game in the paint, so it’s pretty much a wash. But I would have liked to see him execute a little more on offense.
- Oto Osenieks hit both of his three-point attempts and ended with 9 points on the game. With those two buckets he equaled his TOTAL number of three pointers from last year … in one game. He’ll be a boon to the offense this year if he can continue to regain his shooting confidence, and indicated in a post-game interview that Pitino is okay with just letting him shoot.
- I mentioned it above, but the defense overall tonight was very disruptive, and the full-court press was very effective at keeping Montana off its game. Further, the Grizzlies couldn’t get anything going near the basket and were forced to rely on the outside shot, which was not falling. At least in the beginning of the season, the Gophers look like they’re living up to the billing of being a team that loves to get out and run.
- Wally Ellenson got in the game and even hit a three pointer. Hopefully that puts to bed any of the rumored ill will between him and Pitino.
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