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Coffey answers coach's calls with 26 points in Gophers' exhibition win

Minnesota guard Amir Coffey drives to the basket on Green Bay's Sukhjot Bains in the first half as the Golden Gophers played Phoenix Sunday, Nov. 5, in Minneapolis. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press1 / 3
Minnesota guard Nate Mason drives on Green Bay's Hunter Crist in the second half as Minnesota beat Green Bay 115-86 Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017, in Minneapolis. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press2 / 3
Minnesota's Amir Coffey slashes to the basket and scores against Green Bay in the second half as Minnesota beat the Green Bay 115-86 Sunday, Nov. 5, in Minneapolis. Scott Takushi / St. Paul Pioneer Press3 / 3

MINNEAPOLIS—At times, Amir Coffey admits, the message Minnesota Gophers men's basketball coaches have been stressing to him all preseason can grow old.

Throughout each practice, coach Richard Pitino is in Coffey's ear with the same tip. Be more aggressive, Pitino tells Coffey, pleading that the sophomore from Hopkins shoot more.

"He's been stressing that to me since last year," Coffey said. "And now that I'm a little older, he's really been on me for that."

On Sunday, Nov. 5, in the Gophers' final exhibition game before the regular season begins Friday, Nov. 10, for the 15th-ranked team in the country, Coffey showed why Pitino wants him to shoot more.

In a 115-86 win over Green Bay at the Maturi Pavilion, Coffey scored a game-high 26 points in just 23 minutes of action, shooting 10 of 15 from the field, while adding five assists.

Even if it was just a preseason game, a dazzling performance Sunday demonstrated why Pitino thinks Coffey can develop into an NBA player.

"I think that's realistic," Pitino said. "But there are a lot of steps that go toward that."

The first one is a sophomore season that improves on Coffey's 12.2 points per game as a freshman last season.

Already, thanks to what he did as a freshman, he's being discussed as one of the Big Ten's best players and was picked to the all-conference preseason team.

"He's had a really productive summer and fall and I think he's primed for a really productive year," Pitino said.

The first step in that, though, is becoming more of a shooter in Pitino's screen-based offense.

While Coffey has turned heads with a passing ability that helped record 102 assists last season, Pitino said Coffey doesn't utilize his own shot enough. He said Coffey has been shooting 67 percent from the field in preseason practices.

"I keep telling him you're a big guard who can pass—but you're also a big guard who can score," Pitino said. "We need you to score and you're a good scorer. The only knock on Amir that anyone ever says is that sometimes he's not assertive enough. Well, when he's assertive he's really, really good. So we need him to be a threat."

Behind Coffey's outburst, the Gophers cruised in their exhibition win with six players recording double-digit points.

Freshman Isaiah Washington, the highly touted point guard from New York, also shined, pouring in 24 points in 22 minutes to go with six assists and zero turnovers.

The Gophers now turn their attention to Friday's season opener against USC Upstate.

"I thought he was terrific," Pitino said of Washington.

But it was Coffey who highlighted Sunday's afternoon tilt, following Pitino's instructions of showing more. He attempted 15 field goals, three 3s, and seven free throws.

"If that's what coach wants me to do then I'm going to do it," Coffey said.

"I think I'm a good playmaker so I'm just going to try to make plays. Sometimes that's taking shots, sometimes it's driving and getting it to one of the big guys or outside. Just playing by my eye and not being too selfish. I think I know when to score and when to pass. He just tells me to stay aggressive so that's what I'll do."

Briefly

Sunday's exhibition drew 2,381 fans at the Maturi Pavilion for a charity game in which all proceeds will go to Puerto Rico relief. Pitino said he'd be in favor of the NCAA permanently adding a third exhibition game to the preseason schedule if the proceeds went to charity.

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