Pitino may tweak struggling Gophers’ lineup
MINNEAPOLIS — Richard Pitino is currently in the midst of the longest losing streak of his head coaching career.
Granted, that career is in just its third year, but the four-game skid Pitino’s Minnesota squad is on is one he hasn’t endured yet. After losing to Michigan on Saturday, the Gophers fell to 0-4 to start the Big Ten, leaving Pitino scratching his head as he tries to figure out how to right the ship.
In fact, it’s the longest losing streak Pitino has gone through as a coach since he was an assistant for the Duquesne squad that lost eight straight to close out the 2006-07 season. As an assistant at Louisville, Pitino and Co. never lost more than two in a row in his three seasons there. It was a similar story at Florida, where the Billy Donovan-led Gators never lost more than once in a row in 2010-11 and lost three straight the year before that. Even as the head coach at Florida International before he took over at Minnesota, Pitino never had more than two consecutive losses.
Needless to say, Minnesota’s four-game slide is not familiar territory for Pitino.
"It’s difficult, so now you’ve got to talk about how you handle it," Pitino said Monday, one day before the Gophers’ home game against Iowa. "I don’t think I’ve ever gone through four in a row recently. I don’t remember. We all have to do it together. We have to tune out any type of negativity, whatever it may be. We’ve just got to stay positive. We know we can play much better basketball."
There are still plenty of games remaining on the schedule, but the Gophers have dug themselves a sizeable hole to start Big Ten play. Minnesota opened with three of its first four conference games on the road, including Saturday’s loss in Ann Arbor in which the Gophers let a 10-point second-half lead slip away before losing, 62-57.
Minnesota committed 17 turnovers in that game, something that still irked Pitino a few days later. It’s not as if the Gophers haven’t had chances to win in their first four Big Ten games but they’ve certainly given away a few of those opportunities.
"The last game (against Michigan), I went back and watched it a bunch. I probably should have done the ol’ burn the tape and not watched it," Pitino said. "We had some turnovers that you couldn’t explain. We threw it out of bounds eight times on turnovers. I’ve never seen that. . . . You get 17 turnovers on the road and you miss nine free throws. You’re not going to win."
So what can the Gophers do to stop the skid? Pitino admitted Monday he’s strongly considering altering Minnesota’s lineup to potentially jumpstart his team. With some players underperforming, others might have an opportunity to step up in a more expanded role. Just what those tweaks might be, though, Pitino didn’t say Monday.
He did add, though, that he’d like to get freshman forward Gaston Diedhiou some minutes for the first time all year. Diedhiou, a native of Senegal, joined Minnesota for the second semester after clearing up enrollment issues that stemmed from his English proficiency exam. With the Gophers thin at power forward, Diedhiou’s 6-foot-9 frame could certainly give the Gophers a boost and some depth.
Whatever other lineup changes might occur remain to be seen leading up to Tuesday’s game against the Hawkeyes, but Minnesota’s players admit that something needs to change to finally get that first Big Ten victory.
"We always think that coach knows what to do. He’s been there before," said junior forward Joey King. "Whatever coach thinks will light a fire and get things going for us, of course I’m definitely cool with. Whatever he thinks is the right thing to do, I’m always with him."
Though the Gophers are now home for three of their next four games, things don’t necessarily get any easier. Tuesday’s visitors, the Iowa Hawkeyes, have won their only two road games so far this year, both against ranked teams. Iowa went on the road to beat No. 12 North Carolina in early December and topped No. 20 Ohio State on Dec. 30.
With the Hawkeyes hoping to play spoilers on the road once again, Minnesota knows it can’t afford to lose games at home. As frustration has continued to mount for the Gophers, there almost seems to be more pressure to win as the losing streak grows.
"I think physically, they’re playing as hard as they possibly can. Maybe they’re playing with a little too much weight on their shoulders. I’m not sure what it is," Pitino said. "They’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. But we knew it would be tough. . . . Hopefully coming home will help us."
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