MINNEAPOLIS -- Coming off a three-game losing streak away from Minnesota, Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino was happy to be home before running into a fan on a recent grocery store run.
“Tough season, Coach,” the fan said.
Pitino thought about responding with: “Little too early for that,” but bit his tongue instead. “I was about that close to snapping on him.”
Instead, Pitino said, “Thank you,” and kept running his errands, focusing on the 26 games remaining this season, not the four already played.
After a season-opening home win over Cleveland State on Nov. 5, the Gophers men’s basketball team has dropped three games away from Williams Arena since Nov. 9: 71-62 to Oklahoma in Sioux Falls, S.D., and road games, 64-56 to Butler and 73-69 against Utah on Friday.
Minnesota (1-3) now has four consecutive games at the Barn — the season’s longest homestand — starting with Central Michigan (4-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21.
Pitino built up the three games against high-major opponents as the toughest nonconference stretch he’s been a part of in his six-plus years at Minnesota. “We challenged them but, again, we didn’t pass the test,” he said. “… You can’t brag about it unless you go get the wins.”
Pitino insisted he’d prefer the recent tough sledding to “getting some false confidence and false belief and not being ready.”
The most positive sign Pitino could have expressed to that sympathetic fellow shopper is the play of sophomore center Daniel Oturu, who is one rebound away from four double-doubles to start the year.
Oturu is averaging team-highs of 19 points, 11.8 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, and although 6-foot-10 has made 4 of 8 3-point attempts. He has career-highs in eight different categories this year, from minutes to points, rebounds, steals and blocks.
“We need that from him, and we need him to continue to grow,” Pitino said.
Pitino switched his starting lineup for Utah, going with sophomore forward Jarvis Omersa instead of Drexel graduate transfer Alihan Demir. Omersa was ineffective, with four fouls in five minutes, while Demir struggled to shoot (4 for 16) off the bench.
Pitino wants to settle on a starter because a revolving door would mean he’s looking for an answer.
True freshman Isaiah Ihnen made his debut against Utah after missing the first three games with an injury to his right shooting wrist. He had three points and one rebound in eight minutes.
“If he’s healthy, he can really help us,” Pitino said.
Maybe fellow grocery shoppers will have a different message for Pitino after he finishes this home stretch against the Chippewas, North Dakota, DePaul and Clemson through Dec. 2.
Prior Lake’s Garcia picks Marquette
Dawson Garcia, a 6-foot-11 forward from Prior Lake, Minn., picked Marquette over the Gophers and others in his college announcement Wednesday
Garcia, a four-star recruit based on 247sports.com’s composite ranking, also considered Memphis and Indiana. He is believed to be the 31st best recruit in the 2020 class and the second-best in Minnesota behind uncommitted Minnehaha Academy star Jalen Suggs, according to 247sports.
“I just felt a part of their family there,” Garcia said in an interview that aired on CBS Sports HQ. “They have been recruiting me for a long time, showing me a lot, as well as my relationship with the players. And I can just really see myself fitting in there and doing some serious damage in the future.”
Gophers coach Pitino can’t comment on unsigned recruits, per NCAA rules, but when asked about recruiting in-state players, he turned the attention to his signed commitments.
“I think the biggest thing that I try to do is recruit players that I think fit our program,” he said Wednesday. “It doesn’t really matter where they are from. Certainly recruiting the state is important, but it’s also very, very important to recruit good players.”
Pitino has signed two four-star recruits — Miami native Jamal Mashburn Jr. and Chicago’s Martice Mitchell — for the 2020 recruiting class and has one scholarship still open.
The freshmen in the 2019 class are Isaiah Ihnen of Boeblingen, Germany; Sam Freeman and Tre’ Williams of Dallas; and Bryan Greenlee of Gainesville Fla.
The Gophers had a trio of in-state commits in the 2018 class: Daniel Oturu of Cretin-Derham Hall, Gabe Kalscheur of DeLaSalle and Jarvis Omersa of Orono.