MINNEAPOLIS — Richard Pitino had a message for Amir Coffey before the Gophers played Nebraska on Wednesday night at Williams Arena.
“I said, ‘I’m sick and tired of going into every game and they talk about (Jordan Murphy) for us, and then they talk about all the potential pros on the other team,'” Pitino told Coffey. “(I said), ‘When are they going to start talking about you? And that’s on you. We’ll put you in positions, but you’ve got to be aggressive.'”
Evidently, Coffey got the message because the junior guard went out and had one of his best games as a Gopher.
Coffey, who entered the game averaging 14.3 points, finished with a career-high 32 points and added six assists and six rebounds as the Gophers rallied from a 13-point deficit early in the second half for an 85-78 victory over the 24th-ranked Cornhuskers.
Coffey had 14 points in the first half but was limited to 13 minutes, 38 seconds because he picked up three fouls. In the second half, Coffey gave the national pundits something to talk about as he took control by scoring 18 points, dishing out six assists and grabbing four rebounds in 17:44 of action.
Coffey was fouled with 3:31 left in the second half and the Gophers trailing by two points. He made both free throws to tie the score and shortly thereafter, with Minnesota up by only one point, he made a three-pointer to give the Gophers a four-point cushion.
Coffey’s importance to the Gophers (7-2, 1-1 in the Big Ten) is obvious and the fact he’s being used some at point guard this season shows the faith that Pitino has in him. So what was his reaction to Pitino’s pregame pep talk?
“I don’t have one,” said Coffey, whose father, Richard, also played at the University of Minnesota. “Just keep playing, not worry about if they talk about me or not. That shouldn’t be something I worry about. If they do, they do. They don’t, I’m going to keep playing.”
Nebraska coach Tim Miles certainly noticed Coffey.
“He looked great,” Miles said. “First of all he was great and he got where he wanted to. He found people, he made tough shots, got to the foul line (14-of-17). He kind of singlehandedly kept Minnesota hanging around. Every time we were ready to stretch a lead he’d make some plays.”
The type of plays that Pitino wants to see from Coffey on a nightly basis and the type that will get him noticed by not just the pundits and but also NBA scouts.
“He kept attacking, he took care of the ball, only turned it over twice,” Pitino said. “He was terrific. I think people will start talking about him now.”