Gophers basketball team's new challenge: handling success
MINNEAPOLIS--The scars from last season's Gophers men's basketball season are so prevalent that players still talk about that 8-23 season as if it is a living, breathing thing.
MINNEAPOLIS-The scars from last season's Gophers men's basketball season are so prevalent that players still talk about that 8-23 season as if it is a living, breathing thing.
It is part of what has sparked the Gophers to a 13-2 start this season, guard Dupree McBrayer said, including an upset victory at then-No. 15 Purdue earlier this week, the biggest win in Richard Pitino's four years on campus.
As the Gophers forced overtime at Purdue, where they hadn't won in 12 years, talk focused on preventing the mistakes that plagued them a year ago.
"We're talking in the huddles saying we don't want to be in the same predicament as last year," McBrayer said. "Let's tough it out and get this win."
That motivation has the Gophers are on the cusp of their first top-25 ranking under Pitino.
But 13 victories in 15 games have the Gophers dealing with a new challenge. After learning how to respond to disappointment, these Gophers must learn how to deal with success.
"We haven't had that in a while," Pitino said with a laugh. "It's different. The word I used before Purdue is respond. And I said it again to our guys. You can't be frauds in the sense that when people talk bad about you, you say, 'Oh we're going to block out the noise.' But then when they talk good about you, you can't eat that up. It's the same. ... Stay hungry, stay humble and want more. Enjoy the taste of success and continue wanting to move forward with it."
Another road test awaits the Gophers on Thursday, a visit to a surging Northwestern team.
Pitino, though, isn't telling his team to avoid a letdown against the Wildcats (12-3, 1-1).
"We're not going to say that word," Pitino said. "That's definitely not going to be the approach. Human nature is to say avoid a letdown. But we're going (to play) a team that has had a very good beginning to the season, an NCAA tournament-caliber team on their home court. ... Letdown is not the word I would use for these guys. I think it's continuing to get them to realize, respond. We responded to a very difficult loss at home (in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State). Now we got a great win on the road. Now there are a different set of circumstances that you need to respond to.
"Don't get complacent. Don't stop working and preparing and getting better. We've got two months of basketball left, so much time that goes into it."
At the beginning of this season, it would have been hard to imagine that the Gophers' challenge at this juncture would be dealing with prosperity. But their New Year's Day victory at Purdue offered credence to their goal of reaching the NCAA tournament.
"I think we're always going to keep our feet on the ground," sophomore forward Jordan Murphy said. "I don't think we're going to get big-headed or overconfident. I think we do a pretty good job of that."