MINNEAPOLIS - Gophers men's basketball coach Richard Pitino saw plenty of mistakes in Minnesota's 83-60 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday, Jan. 10. He didn't act on all of them.
"I think more than anything it's just understanding," Pitino said Friday. "Maybe I was a little bit nicer to them after a not-very-good performance versus Northwestern. But I think they deserve a break, to be honest. You maybe point out certainly what you need to do from an execution standpoint."
After falling to 0-2 playing without center Reggie Lynch (suspended for sexual misconduct investigations) and guard Amir Coffey (shoulder injury), the Gophers (13-5, 2-3 Big Ten) will need a much-improved performance against No. 5 Purdue (16-2, 5-0) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Williams Arena.
But before completely looking ahead, Pitino addressed the current roster. "The 11 guys, as I've said before, adversity has hit the team, and it's not their fault," he said. "I don't want to act like it's not substantially different, it is. But it's my job to get them feeling great about themselves."
Pitino pointed out Saturday's opportunities. It's the Gophers' last game at the Barn before a three-game road trip, with a highly ranked opponent coming in to play on national TV.
"Coach has been doing a really good job of just keeping us motivated and keeping us with our head high," forward Jordan Murphy said.
This, after news of a third Lynch investigation was revealed a day before the Northwestern game - including a university panel recommendation for his expulsion.
"I don't feel like the guys are distracted, to be honest. I think they are excited about moving forward," Pitino said. "I think we got Northwestern out of our system a little bit, but I think we are ready to go."
To beat Purdue, the Gophers' best players - Murphy and guard Nate Mason - must avoid the foul trouble that plagued them at Northwestern. Murphy sat for 10 minutes in the first half. Playing only 17 minutes, he saw the end of his 17-game double-double streak to start the season. After 26 playing minutes, Mason received a technical foul with less than two minutes left. Both fouled out.
"Certainly, Nate and Murph, can't have you do that," Pitino said. "I thought they were frustrated. Nate looked clearly frustrated, so I think he will be much better (Saturday). Again, I'm going to give him a pass on that. I think he's been terrific. He's got to not allow anything to affect him. I thought he had a couple of frustrated fouls. Murph a little bit, too."
Murphy, who was named to the Wooden Award watch list Thursday, said there were feelings of "guilt" for not being able to contribute more against the Wildcats. The 6-foot-6 forward will be needed immensely against the Boilermakers' big front court.
With Caleb Swanigan gone to the Portland Trailblazers as a 2017 first-round draft pick, Purdue now features 7-foot-2 Issac Haas and 6-8 Vincent Edwards. This is where Lynch, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, will be sorely missed.
"Haas is really, really difficult to cover," Pitino said. "He's very unique because he's so big that you can't really prepare for it. But he's done a much better job of passing the ball out of the post because you pick your poison: You trap him and they've got great players around him who have played with great purpose. They are all on the same page."
After a pair of losses at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas in November, Purdue has been rolling with 12 straight wins.
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