ST. PAUL -- The Gophers men’s basketball team has been outscored in the paint by a staggering 23 points per game in its three losses this season.
Iowa's 6-foot-11 center Luka Garza can dominate down low and will provide another daunting task when No. 16 Minnesota (10-3, 3-3 Big Ten) travels to Iowa City to face the No. 5 Hawkeyes (10-2, 4-1) at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
While Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan each took it to Minnesota in the paint in those defeats, Iowa also had a 32-20 advantage in that category in its Christmas matchup, but Marcus Carr and Brandon Johnson’ barrage of three-pointers led to a 102-95 overtime win over the Hawkeyes.
While intertwined with points in the paint, the Gophers’ rebounding has been mostly better since a minus-18 showing against the Illini in the conference opener Dec. 15. Minnesota was plus-3 against the Badgers, but were minus-9 against the Wolverines.
The Hawkeyes had 27 offensive rebounds, helping Garza, who is second in the nation at 27.2 points per game, finish with 32 points against Minnesota.
As Michigan’s freshman phenom Hunter Dickinson finished with 28 points on Wednesday, Minnesota 7-foot center Liam Robbins didn’t play much in the second half due to an injury.
Pitino said Robbins, who had only five points and four rebounds midweek, was able to practice Friday. “I don’t think it was too big of a deal,” said Pitino, who added he kept Robbins out, in part, because the game was out of reach.
Friendship through rivalry
When the border rivalry between the Gophers and Hawkeyes is, of course, heated, the matchup between Pitino and Iowa’s Fran McCaffrey is more cordial.
“I just think Fran is a good guy,” Pitino said Saturday. “This is Year 10 for me as a head coach, and I’ve been around this thing for a lot longer, and I don’t care about fame. I don’t care about attention. …
"But I like guys that don’t care about what winning brings you in this profession, and that’s what Fran is. Fran is just a good guy that likes coaching his team. You can tell he’s a good father. He’s a good person. He cares about being a good person. Because that’s what I care about. I’m not perfect by any means, but I gravitate toward people like that. I think our league is full of that.”
The Gophers had to take the court in Ann Arbor, Mich., hours after President Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block the certification of the 2020 election results.
“I’m just watching that unfold and I’m going, ‘I cannot believe what I’m watching. This is so disgusting, and this is so ridiculous,' ” Pitino recalled.
Pitino briefly addressed the situation before the game at Crisler Center and went deeper on the topic before practice Friday. He was empathizing with what college players have witnessed and experienced, from the COVID-19 pandemic to racial unrest with George Floyd’s killing to Wednesday’s events in Washington, D.C.
“These guys have gone through so much, so I told them: ‘Guys want to talk about it, I’m all ears,' ” Pitino said. “It’s a constant reminder. We have constantly been reminded since this spring that our country is far from perfect and has a long, long way to go.”
One of six
Carr was one of six Big Ten players on the Wooden Award’s midseason top 25 this week, joining Garza, Rutgers’ Ron Harper Jr., Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis and Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn and Ayo Dosunmu.
Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs of Minnehaha Academy and Duke sophomore forward Matthew Hurt of Rochester was also named in the elite company.