|No. 14 Minnesota opens home stretch vs. Drake|
MINNEAPOLIS -- The No. 14 Minnesota Golden Gophers host Drake on Monday to begin a stretch of six straight home games, the first four coming against non-conference opponents.
It might have been looked at as a stretch to pad Minnesota's record before the beef of the Big Ten schedule begins. Perception now is much different than a week ago when the Gophers recovered from their first loss of the season to No. 10 Miami by beating Rutgers at home.
Minnesota (8-3) returns home after two road losses to non-ranked teams, including Saturday's 95-79 loss at Arkansas. The Gophers, having lost three of their past four, could fall out of the top-25 rankings for the first time this season.
"We're not pressing the panic button right now," Minnesota guard Dupree McBrayer told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "But we've got to go back to being hungry on defense when nobody was talking about us. That's what has got to be our identity."
The Gophers' defense has faltered in recent losses. Arkansas shot 57.4 percent from the field on Saturday and hit 10 of 23 from 3-point territory.
"People are telling us we're good. So the illusion of people telling us that we're good should not mean that we're good," Minnesota coach Richard Pitino told the Star Tribune last week. "We can't fall into the trap of the illusion that just because people tell us we're going to beat Miami at home because it's a great atmosphere. That's not really why you're going to win. So it is a challenge. I found it a lot easier when people told us we were going to stink to get everyone to band together."
Pitino and Minnesota are facing different expectations last year. By returning five starters, the Gophers were ranked from the beginning of the season after reaching the NCAA tournament last year. This year's team is strong with its starting group, but doesn't have the depth it had last season.
Minnesota was scoreless off the bench in the loss to Miami and had 13 points from reserves against Arkansas, eight coming from freshman Isaiah Washington.
"I'm not lowering expectations, but we are a different team than last year," Pitino told the paper. "Our bench is totally different. My first two subs were either Dupree or Akeem (Springs) or Eric Curry last year. We don't have those."
While the Gophers try to recover, Drake (5-4) ended a three-game losing streak with a 93-74 win against Omaha on Saturday.
Reed Timmer scored 27 points for the Bulldogs. It was Timmer's fifth game with 25 or more points this season and he's sixth on the school's all-time scoring list. More importantly for coach Niko Medved, his team had supplementary scoring against Omaha as freshman Jalen Gibbs scored a season-high 16.
C.J. Rivers had 10 points, five rebounds and four assists.
"We've always said we are a really good team when we share the ball," Medved told the team's website. "I thought a lot of guys played really, really well tonight. Obviously, Reed and C.J. played well and I think the freshmen are really coming on. Jalen and Noah 1/8Thomas 3/8 are doing really well in practice and Jalen has been coming on defensively. It's nice to get a lift from those young guys."