Maturi: U ‘Lucky’ to Have Smith
The Gophers have lost 14 of their last 15 Big Ten games but athletic director Joel Maturi expressed strong support for coach Tubby Smith in an interview last week with Sports Headliners.
Minnesota is 0-4 in conference games after last night’s 79-66 loss to Purdue at Williams Arena. The Gophers closed last season by losing 10 of their final 11 league games including one in the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota has also lost 10 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents. The streak is the longest since the 2007 and 2008 seasons when the Gophers also had a combined 10 game losing streak. Nine of the defeats were in 2007.
“I think we’re very lucky to have Tubby Smith as our basketball coach here,” Maturi said. “I think it’s a situation where we’ve had some unfortunate things happen to the program. …You tell me the players that have been injured. You tell me the players that have left.
“We all take responsibility for some of those actions including Joel Maturi. But it does have an impact — sometimes immediately — as to wins and losses.”
Maturi decided two years ago that high impact forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Royce White couldn’t play until their legal entanglements were resolved. Since then Maturi and Smith have seen several players leave the program including White, guards Devoe Joseph and Justin Cobbs, and center Colton Iverson.
Joseph, Cobbs and Iverson, along with Mbakwe, whose season ended with a knee injury on November 27, could all be playing at Minnesota now. Not only was Mbakwe a difficult injury loss, but last season senior point guard Al Nolen missed most of the Big Ten schedule with a foot injury and the Gophers collapsed without him. And also last season Gophers freshman center Maurice Walker was injured in late December and hasn’t played since.
Maturi hired Smith in 2007 after the coach had been at Kentucky for 10 seasons. He won a national championship in 1998 and had 10 tournament teams. His worst record at Kentucky was 22-13.
Not only are the Gophers losing games, but many of the defeats are frustratingly close. Two of the conference losses this winter have been by a combined seven points, and another defeat was a nine point double overtime loss at Illinois. The situation has left not only Smith and the Gophers frustrated but also fans including season ticket holders who have been informed they will pay more for their seats next season.
An expanded donation program will have most season ticket holders paying more than just the cost of their season tickets as in the past. Maturi said he believes Minnesota and Northwestern are the only conference schools without such a fundraising policy.
On court losses and more expenses will give season ticket holders pause about renewing but Maturi said the policy will become reality. “We’re going ahead with the policy we put together,” he said. “It’s the right thing for the long term health of Gopher basketball and Gopher athletics. And that program has been four years in the making. We already delayed it one year. We’ll go forward with it.”