MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There’s a lot left for Minnesota to prove, once Big Ten play begins.
The Gophers sure have their defense in prime form, though, and their ball-sharing and offensive balance has been unmatched.
Carlos Morris scored a season-high 19 points, Mo Walker had 15 points and six rebounds and Minnesota romped past Seattle 92-57 Friday for its sixth straight victory behind 24 assists, including nine by DeAndre Mathieu.
The Gophers (9-2) lead all NCAA Division I teams in assists per game.
“That’s our identity. That’s how we want to play. We want to move the ball, get guys open shots,” Walker said.
Andre Hollins and Nate Mason each added 15 points as Minnesota returned from an eight-day game break for final exams with another noncompetitive nonconference tuneup. That’s because the Gophers played with plenty of intensity.
“We don’t have an ego as a team. There’s no sense of entitlement here. Who are we to look down on our opponent? What have we accomplished to be looking down on an opponent?” coach Richard Pitino said.
Bakary Konate pitched in nine points and eight rebounds, both personal bests for the freshman, and DeAndre Mathieu also had a career-high six steals. The Gophers scored 80-plus points for the fifth straight game, matching their December streak from 2009. They had seven in a row in 1966.
Mathieu had trouble finishing his signature waterbug-like drives and went 1 for 6 from the floor for just two points. But he led the relentless full-court press that decided the game before halftime.
He swiped the ball from Isiah Umipig in the backcourt and fed Joey King for a dunk as he cut through the lane for a 12-2 lead. Mathieu had four steals less than 5 minutes in. Later, there was the cross-court pass ahead to Mason, who fed Charles Buggs for a reverse dunk and a 35-15 lead.
“I want to distribute, and guys are doing a good job of making open shots,” Mathieu said, adding: “And then definitely, I’m just trying to be the best defender in the country, as far as harassing guys, just making it hard on them.”
Jadon Cohee scored 14 points and Umipig added 13 points the Redhawks (5-6). Umipig went 3 for 8 from 3-point range. He came into the game ranked second in the nation with an average of 4.2 made 3-pointers per game. His 17.2 points-per-game mark entered the weekend second in the Western Athletic Conference.
The Gophers had 12 of their 16 steals — they’re third in the country in that category — in the first half on their way to a 43-21 lead. The Redhawks were called for seven fouls in the first 7 minutes of the game, too. The Gophers were 11 for 13 from the line in the first half.
“It took us out of everything. It took the game over. If the turnovers weren’t enough, the free throws changed the landscape of the whole game,” said Seattle coach Cameron Dollar, the former UCLA point guard who was hired to guide Seattle’s re-entry into Division I five years ago.
For Seattle, this was the program’s first game against a team currently in the Big Ten. Long before Dollar was born, let alone any of his players, Seattle often took on some of the nation’s best: most memorably when the Elgin Baylor-led squad reached the NCAA championship game in 1958 and lost to Kentucky. The small Jesuit school dropped Division I sports in 1980.
TAKE THE SHOT
Morris went 4 for 6 from 3-point range, a result of encouragement from coaches and players to take advantage of more of the openings he’s had on the perimeter. Morris was 10 for 25 from behind the arc coming into the game.
Seattle was picked to finish second of eight by the coaches and third by the media in the 2014-15 preseason WAC polls. The Redhawks have four players from England on their roster and three from British Columbia.
Minnesota had freshman forward Gaston Diedhiou available for the first time, the day after the native of Senegal was admitted to the university after sitting out the fall semester. Another player added to the roster this week was walk-on guard Mike Lukashewich, who blocked a shot at the end of the first half. Diedhiou didn’t get in.
“You’ve got to practice like once before I play you in a game,” Pitino said. “Maybe I’m a stickler.”
Seattle returns home to play Sacramento State on Sunday night.
Minnesota hosts Furman on Monday night.
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