MINNEAPOLIS - After a pair of discouraging losses, the Minnesota Golden Gophers men's basketball team used its time to prepare for No. 1 Indiana by focusing on fundamentals.
"Our guys have been working hard," said Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "We've had a few days to prepare. We've had some time off, so we've tried to work on the areas we need to improve on, which are ball handling. We really need to take care of the ball. And shooting, we really struggled shooting the ball the last couple of games."
Over the past three games, the Gophers shooting percentage has been discouraging. Even in the overtime win against Wisconsin, the Gophers shot only 36.7 percent from the field. But the Gophers only turned the ball over eight times.
The turnover numbers soared in the following two blowout losses to Iowa and Ohio State. The Gophers shot 36.2 percent from the field against the Hawkeyes, but they turned it over 17 times in the 88-64 loss. The Buckeyes matchup was even worse. Twenty-one turnovers and a miserable 29.2 percent shooting percentage led to a 71-45 loss.
"I think it's our focus because at the end of the day, it's turnovers," guard Andre Hollins said. "How do you work on not turning the ball over? We just have to concentrate a little bit more, be stronger with the ball and work on the little things."
The shooting percentage combined with the turnovers is a recipe that doesn't fit what the Gophers are trying to do.
"This team is pretty much built to be an up-and-down pressing-like team, but it's hard to do that when you shoot 29 percent or turn it over 17 or 24 times," Smith said. "You're always in a retreat mode."
Smith said he was pleased with how his guards protected the ball against Ohio State, but unfortunately there were 12 turnovers in the front court, something he was not happy about.
"You talk about the turnovers so much and we're thinking about it so much, so we try to do things in practice to show that this is what happens when you don't take care of the ball," Smith said. "So, we've done some things in practice to try and get their attention."
But Smith and players say all that attention can be a bad thing.
"If you say 'Don't turn the ball over,' more than likely you are going to turn the ball over because you are thinking about it so much," guard Joe Coleman said. "I think it's about trying to make sure we're not thinking about the wrong things and just play ball."
Smith says the coaching staff's job is to make sure players are prepared, allowing them to play aggressively, yet under control.
"We try to create that type of atmosphere in practice, to make it tough so that when you get in a game you play relaxed," Smith said. "The practices are tougher than the games. So we've tried to create that over the last few days."
After such an upbeat win over Wisconsin, Smith admitted he was expecting the team to respond with better play against Iowa and Ohio State. That didn't happen. Smith says he's anxious to see how the team responds when the No. 1 team in the nation comes to Williams Arena.
"I hope they come out angry and play with a real sense of urgency," Smith said, noting that they still need to keep those emotions in check.
The Hoosiers are led by guard Victor Oladipo and forward Cody Zeller. Combined the two are averaging 30 points a game.
"Our biggest challenge will be stopping Indiana's transition game," Smith said. "They are the leading scoring team in the league. They are at the top in just about every category in the Big Ten."
"We are going to have to grit it out. We are going to have to stay in the game. We are going to have to take care of the ball and limit our mistakes," Hollins said.
A win would be a huge boost on the Gophers' resume and the team knows it.
"You have to win, that's the bottom line and starting off with a win against Indiana would be huge for us," Hollins said.
Rodney Williams, who has been battling a shoulder injury, will start on Tuesday night. The Gophers and Hoosiers will tip-off at 6 p.m. at The Barn.
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