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Souhan: Pitino downplayed the past and may have secured his future



– Rick Pitino was 34 when he first trained a team for a NCAA tournament victory. He started underdog Providence on a fantastic race for the Final Four in 1987.

Rick's son Thursday earned his first NCAA tournament victory at the age of 36, honoring his father by beating Louisville, where Rick was a legend and Richard his assistant.

Louisville fired Rick in the midst of a federal corruption probe and allegations of all sordid crime. Thursday Richard coached Minnesota for a 86-76 victory over Louisville and Rick replacement, Chris Mack.

Richard beat Louisville in the first round of the tournament should not be seen as a kind of fair revenge. Richard refused to play the game all week, even after Gophers had doubled out on their second official NCAA tournament victory since 1

990.

Let's just say that when the match ended, you could hear someone with a New York accent screaming "Opa!" from 6,000 miles away.

Rick Pitino coaching in Greece so he couldn't make it to the Wells Fargo Center in Des Moines. Had he done so, he would have enjoyed seeing his son-out coach his replacement.

Mack is a proven winner. He took Xavier to four sweet 16s. He took over a power program with talented and veteran sisters.

On February 1, Louisville was 16-5.

Then Mack lost nine of his last 13 games.

Thursday, his seventh seeded Cardinals so often unsure of the 10-seeded Gophers.

On February 27, Gophers was 17-11, and a tournament bid was hardly guaranteed. They have won five to seven since then, including two victories over Purdue and one over Louisville.

Louisville entered the game with a dramatic advantage from the three-point line. Gophers swarmed Cardinals shooters and easily created open shots for their true three-point shooter – Gabe Kalscheur.

Louisville starters made five of their 17 three-point shots. Kalscheur went 5-to-11. Gophers invaded Louisville's expected benefits and scored easily after a weak start.

"This past week's prep has been pretty good for us," said Gophers guardian Amir Coffey. "We ran across all their plays, so much movie. I felt like we were ready for something they should throw at us." "I don't think anyone here is surprised," Jarvis Omersa said. "We were the more physical the better the team. The results are what the results are."

Pitino was entitled to minimize the Louisville connection. He had the right to emphasize the importance of the tournament to his players, fans and the university. He was also within his right to celebrate his father.

"I'm truthful with that," Pitino said. "I'm really not diplomatic. It really wasn't about it. It's very hard to get into the tournament, especially in our league. … The focus was on preparing. It didn't matter who we played."

" He downplayed it, "Coffey said. "He did it about the game. But I'm sure he feels pretty good inside."

Pitino has undergone the usual Minnesota coaching cycle: Vocal Gophers fans questioned why he was hired, as at the first glimpse of success feared, he would leave a more successful program, then wondered why he was still here for some scandals and failures.

Winning a tournament game with a young team moves Pitino to a new stage of his career. He just handled Mack and Louisville handily for a school that enjoyed some unwanted basketball success.

He did it with his most accomplished player, Jordan Murphy, hampered by back spasms in the second half, and while playing three real freshmen and one point guard that was recruited as a wing.

Pitino is signed through the 2021-22 season. Gophers athletic instructor Mark Coyle might add a few years. Minnesota will not be the school that has spent 10 years preparing Pitino to win another place.

Souhan's podcast can be heard on TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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