DES MOINES -- Richard Pitino said the Gophers’ first-round game against Louisville wasn’t about him and his father.
He was right.
It was about Pitino and his father’s successor at Louisville, Chris Mack.
Pitino thoroughly outcoached Mack on Thursday in a 86-76 victory, Pitino’s first in the NCAA tournament.
Mack had more obvious talent and experience, and the Gophers took Louisville apart on Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
Louisville trapped? The Gophers routinely beat the defense.
Louisville relies on three-pointers? The Gophers swarmed them beyond the arc.
The Gophers lacked Louisville’s depth? Somehow Pitino’s least-used rotation players made an impact, as players like Michael Hurt and Brock Stull were on the court for important Gopher runs.
The Gophers surged even when their senior star, Jordan Murphy, left the game periodically with back spasms in the second half.
The Gophers, a 10th seed, swamped Louisville, a seventh seed, and it was one of the Gophers’ homegrown freshmen who made the biggest impact.
Gabe Kalscheur is not a spectacular athlete, but he can be a spectacular basketball player. He singlehandedly negated Louisville’s projected three-point advantage and even played a large role on the boards as the Gophers earned just their second NCAA tournament victory since 1997 - or 1990, if you listen to the NCAA.
(Pro tip: Never listen to the NCAA.)
The second half threatened to become another episode in Gopher misfortune. If there was one development the Gophers couldn’t survive, it would be an injury to Murphy, one of the best players in program history and a player with little experienced depth behind him.
The Gophers dominated whether he was on the court or not.
When Louisville cut the Gopher lead to 12 late in the second half, it was Kalscheur who drove through the lane and rolled in a contested layup, giving the Gophers a 64-40 lead.
Late in the game, Mack waited too long to foul, letting the Gophers run down the clock when Louisville should have been desperate to stop the clock.
The last time the Gophers won an NCAA tournament game, Norwood Teague fired Tubby Smith.
Pitino doesn’t have to worry about that as he prepares for a likely showdown with Michigan State to qualify for the Sweet 16.
As the Gophers dribbled out the clock, they celebrated as if they weren’t surprised. They shook hands and walked toward the Gopher pep band, hearing The Rouser as they left the court.
This is Jim Souhan’s First Reaction column. See his full column on startribune.com later today.
Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org