The Gophers won what was probably one of the closest 20-point victories you’ll ever see against the Western Carolina Catamounts Friday night, 84-64.
Up by only one point at halftime, the Gophers had trouble getting into a flow on offense and fell victim to Western Carolina’s hot shooting, led largely by James Sinclair, who seemingly couldn’t miss. Further, the Gophers lacked energy and urgency, which prevented much of the cohesion necessary to string together some competent play and put WCU away early.
Of course, that’s when Richard went to work, as he apparently laid into the team pretty hard at halftime, which spurred a second half turnaround. We’ve seen it a few times already this year, where the Gophers have looked less than interested in the first half before putting together a pretty complete second. But that’s kind of the rub; the team hasn’t played a complete game all season, outside of perhaps the Western Kentucky game.
Even in the second half, Western Carolina kind of hung around, and it wasn’t until about the six-minute mark when Minnesota went on a 7-0 run to pretty much put things on ice. Even with a 20-point victory, though, it certainly didn’t look like a blowout, and even though it’s hard to argue with the final line, something still doesn’t feel right with this team. They got dominated early on the boards, while Western Carolina used 14 offensive rebounds for second chances and, again, shot poorly (65%) from the free throw line. Things certainly weren’t smooth early on for the offense.
Still, four of the five starters scored in double figures while Mo Walker had 9 points. Nate Mason poured in an additional 11 points in a very efficient 29 minutes off the bench. Carlos Morris continued to ascend and, though he had a couple questionable shot attempts, hitt 7 of his 9 attempts and racking up 16 points. The defense, again, was strong throughout the game, and forced 24 Catamount turnovers, which led to 29 points.
Furthermore, we were treated to a 1-3-1 zone from the Catamounts, which reminded us just how terrible Tubby Smith was at going against it. If you can remember back to a time when Smith was completely stymied by Northwestern’s famous (or whatever) 1-3-1 zone, Pitino was essentially the opposite. In fact, where Smith’s teams panicked, the players last night basically yawned and attacked it just like they were supposed to, with penetration and dishing it out. Really, it was probably the time that WCU went into the zone that the Gophers pulled away since they were so effective and dismantling it. Amazing what a little thought and planning can do, eh?
Again, it’s hard to argue with a 20-point win, but I’ll be in much better shape once this team starts putting together complete games out of the gate, and doesn’t look like it’s about to give it away for 3/4ths of the game.