MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tubby Smith has seen enough.
Mired in the first four-game losing streak of his four-year tenure as coach at Minnesota, Smith lashed out at his struggling team after a 71-62 home loss to Illinois on Thursday night.
Few were spared in the postgame rant that criticized Blake Hoffarber, Rodney Williams, Colton Iverson, Chip Armelin individually and the overall mentality of his entire team.
“We’ve got to get those folks believing and trusting in what we’re doing and doing it the right way,” Smith said. “Obviously what happens is people start questioning coach’s philosophy. ‘Coach sucks. Coach don’t know what he’s doing.’
“After 37 years, everybody’s going to question when you’re losing. I don’t care what it is. I don’t care if it’s a four-game losing streak or a one-game losing streak. I don’t mind taking it. But I’m not going to take it when guys aren’t doing it the way we say to do it. And that’s what we’re going to get back to, basic fundamentals.
“And I don’t think it’s that they’re not doing what we want to them to do. It’s that physically they’re incapable of doing some of the things that we’re asking them to do. I’ve got to figure that out.”
It was the most frontal and critical assessment of his team since he left Kentucky and took the job. Perhaps it was Smith’s way of trying to get his players’ attention before it’s too late.
The Golden Gophers (16-8, 5-7 Big Ten) are just 1-4 since starting point guard Al Nolen went down with a broken foot. Losses on the road to Purdue and Indiana and at home to Ohio State and Illinois have exposed their weaknesses and done serious damage to their NCAA tournament resume.
Injuries to Nolen and Mo Walker and the departure of Devoe Joseph over differences with Smith have gutted the team. Their bench was outscored 23-2 by the Illini’s reserves on Thursday night and Hoffarber, the team’s leading scorer and senior leader, is showing signs of wearing down after moving from shooting guard to point guard for Nolen.
Smith ripped Hoffarber’s shot selection after the game, saying “it cost us.” He also said “we’re not getting much out of Rodney” and, “we’ve got to get more out of Colton.”
Williams, the super-athletic swingman, has scored in double figures just once in the last 10 games and Iverson has been scoreless for two straight.
Smith was asked if this was a similar situation to last year’s team, which lost Nolen to academic suspension in the second half of the season yet still rebounded to make the NCAA tournament.
“We don’t have the same kids,” Smith said. “We had some pretty mature kids last year. Lawrence Westbrook, Damian Johnson, Paul Carter, Devron Bostick. Seniors that were men. Right now we’ve got boys. That’s a big difference. We’ve got (freshmen) Chip Armelin, Maverick Ahanmisi, Austin Hollins. It’s a big difference.”
Hoffarber, Hollins and Williams combined for 12 of the team’s 16 turnovers and couldn’t respond to the Illini’s in-your-face perimeter defense. The Gophers tied the game at 51 with 7:30 to play, but Illinois outscored the worn-down Gophers 20-9 the rest of the way.
Center Ralph Sampson III said after the game that the Illini “were just more hungry for the win than we were.”
Smith, who won a national title at Kentucky and was credited with building solid programs at Georgia and Tulsa, doesn’t seem to have the answers this time around.
“I don’t have anything I can do to wave a magic wand,” Smith said. “It’s called hard work.”
The Gophers have road games at Iowa on Sunday and Penn State on Thursday looming. More performances like the one they gave against Illinois could doom them.
“We’re just hurting ourselves,” star forward Trevor Mbakwe said. “The last couple games we’re just beating ourselves with the lapses we’ve had.
“The spirits are still high,” he said. “I still believe we’re going to make the tournament and this is just a little bump in the road right now.”
Earlier this week, Smith called out Mbakwe for recent subpar performances. The message hit home and Mbakwe had 17 points and 16 rebounds against Illinois.
After calling out the rest of the team, maybe Smith is hoping it will have the same effect.
“We’re all still hungry,” Mbakwe said. “We all still believe in each other, believe in the team, believe in the system. We’ve just got to come out with some wins.”
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