Gophers head coach Richard Pitino told Deandre Mathieu to model his game after Louisville All-America guard Russ Smith.
Mathieu certainly looked the part Friday night.
He scored 26 points for the Gold squad in the Gophers’ “Raise the Barn” scrimmage Friday, cutting through the Maroon team’s defense like a knife through butter.
Pitino said he has access to Louisville’s practice footage — courtesy of his father Rick Pitino, the defending national champion school’s head coach — and he’s had Mathieu pay special attention to Louisville’s star floor general.
“I’ve seen Russ Smith a bunch of times this year already,” Mathieu said, adding that his coach wants him to mimic Smith’s ability to get to the rack and draw fouls.
So far, so good.
Mathieu, a junior transfer from Central Arizona College, has averaged 23.5 points on 75 percent shooting through two intrasquad scrimmages. He got to the line 10 times on Friday.
“He’s really good,” Pitino said after the scrimmage. “He’s so quick. He’s so aggressive.”
And Mathieu wasn’t driving by some backup scrub Friday night. He repeatedly beat All-Big Ten guard Andre Hollins off the dribble en route to his breakout night.
“He showed us some stuff tonight he hadn’t been doing in practice,” Hollins said Friday. “I guess he saved it in his pocket for everybody else to see.”
Mathieu said he normally likes to pass the ball but will score if needed. Central Arizona head coach JD Pollock said Mathieu’s goal last season was to lead the country in assists, but he was forced to score more for the betterment of the team.
Mathieu averaged 17.1 points and 6.5 assists for Central Arizona last season, but Pollock said that point-to-assist ratio could change with Big Ten talent around him.
“We needed him to score,” Pollock said. “But Minnesota has great players. So he’ll be able to distribute to them.”
At 5 feet, 9 inches, Mathieu knows his value lies in his quickness.
“If I’m slow and I’m small,” he said, “I have no chance.”
Mathieu definitely isn’t slow. He said Pitino told him during his recruitment process he was one of the fastest players he’d seen.
Pollock said Mathieu’s “mouth was almost watering” when the Gophers staff pitched the rapid style of play.
That feeling seemed to be mutual.
“When we saw him play when we got the job, we just thought that he was a fit for the way that we like to play,” Pitino said.
Mathieu looked like an ideal fit for the up-tempo pace during the scrimmage. He pushed the ball and took it coast to coast for layups in a matter of seconds on multiple occasions.
“He’s the fastest guy I’ve ever coached,” Pollock said. “His speed is at another level.”
Pollock said Mathieu is one of the few guys who can gamble on the defensive end and has the quickness to recover if he misses.
Mathieu had four steals on the defensive end through the two team scrimmages.
“Playing fast is me,” he said. “All we’re doing is running and pressing. Ball pressure is something I’ve really gotten good at. ... The system really fits me great, and I just love it.”
Mathieu’s Twitter profile is listed under the name “Attack Mathieu.”
And with the way he took the ball to the bucket Friday night, the name seems to be a perfect match — just like his fit in Minnesota’s system.