Gophers basketball improves to 2-0 with home victory over Utah
Gophers players stared at each other bewildered midway through the first half Monday night trying to figure out how to score against Utahs 2-3 zone defense.
With All-Big Ten forward Jordan Murphy on the bench in foul trouble, Minnesota didnt have any answer offensively falling behind in the first test of the season.
That was until the Us zone buster helped turn the game around. Freshman Gabe Kalscheur scored 12 of his team-best 19 points in the first half and hit five three-pointers in the game to lead Minnesota in a 78-69 victory against the Utes at Williams Arena.
The Gophers (2-0) dont play their next home game until early Big Ten play begins Dec. 5 against Nebraska, so this was a critical win to pick up their NCAA tournament resume Monday night.
Murphy came back strong after sitting most of the first half to finish with his second double-double this season with 11 points, 17 rebounds and five assists. Amir Coffey added 14 points and six assists for Minnesota, which shot 60 percent from the field in the second half.
Kalscheur, a former DeLaSalle standout, once scored 38 points going lights out from beyond the arc in a state playoff game in front of his future coach Richard Pitino.
Pitino knew then he had something special with the 6-foot-4 Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist, but Kalscheur eventually impressed the Gophers with other parts of his game to earn a starting role in last weeks season opener. He and fellow freshman and local product Daniel Oturu were part of the Gophers best five defensively.
On Monday night, Kalscheurs offense was desperately needed, though, when the Utes (1-1) used a 9-0 run to take 16-12 lead after back-to-back turnovers from Minnesota. At that point, the Gophers had only made 5-for-15 shots against the zone.
Oturus dunk ended a near three-minute scoring drought, but back-to-back three-pointers from Kalscheur and Amir Coffey ignited the 10-0 run. Kalscheurs outside shooting drew two defenders at the top of the key on one possession before he zipped a pass to fellow freshman Jarvis Omersa for an emphatic dunk to make it 24-18 Minnesota at 4:35 in the first half.
Kalscheur added his fourth three-pointer of the game to extend it to a 33-26 halftime advantage.
Last season, the Gophers ranked 10th in three-point percentage (34.6) and three-pointers made (218) in the Big Ten, but those numbers were expected to improve. They hit 10 three-pointers in the 104-76 opening win against Omaha, including five from senior Dupree McBrayer, who had 11 points, but just one three-pointer Monday.
Other than Kalscheur, Minnesota was only 2-for-13 from long distance against Utah. But the Gophers held their opponent to 41 percent shooting from the field in the game.
The Utes, who last played Minnesota in an NIT victory with former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut in 2003, had a size advantage with 7-foot Serbian Novak Topalovic against Oturu, who struggled early with foul trouble.
Utah cut a 15-point second-half deficit to 62-57 on a jumper from Sedrick Barefield with 6:10 remaining, but Oturu responded with consecutive baskets, including on a drive baseline around Topalovic for a nine-point advantage. Oturu had 13 points and four blocks for the Gophers, who play their next game Sunday night to open the Vancouver Showcase against Texas AM.
Barefield and Vante Hendrix scored 14 points apiece to lead the Utes, who gave up 19 points on 13 turnovers Monday.