UNC Wilmington's Freddie Jackson passes the ball against the defense of Minnesota's Maurice Walker during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 27, 2014, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
Stacy Bengs
December 27, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) DeAndre Mathieu is playing the best basketball of his two years at Minnesota, and it's just in time for the Big Ten season.

Mathieu scored 13 points and had five steals as Minnesota defeated UNC Wilmington 108-82 on Saturday.

The Gophers (11-2) capped their nonconference schedule with another offensive outburst keyed by their senior point guard. Mathieu dished out a career-best 11 assists and had no turnovers to help Minnesota overcome an early nine-point deficit.

''We are sharing the ball at a rate that we've not done since I've ever been a coach,'' Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. ''It certainly starts with DeAndre. He's been great. We really didn't run a play today and we scored 108 points, so it shows we're getting good, quick outlets. . I think our wings and our bigs are starting to understand that if they run, DeAndre's going to get it to them.''

Mathieu, a junior-college transfer last year, went through some growing pains as he adjusted to the pace of play in the Big Ten. But his game is rounding into shape in all aspects as Minnesota prepares to start conference play next week. Mathieu leads all Big Ten players in assist-to-turnover ratio and ranks near the top in steals as he makes life comfortable for his teammates and much less so for opponents.

''I feel like I'm playing a lot better being just a point guard, being a guy who gets my teammates involved, not worrying about my scoring too much,'' Mathieu said. ''When I'm out there I'm making the right plays a lot, not forcing it like last year.''

Carlos Morris scored a career-high 24 points for Minnesota, while Nate Mason had 18 points, Mo Walker added 17, and Charles Buggs had 13.

Freddie Jackson led UNCW with 21 points, while Craig Ponder and Addison Spruill each scored 12 and Malik Pugh added 10. The Seahawks (5-5) built a 29-20 lead thanks in part to hot shooting. They started the game 9 for 12 from the floor, including 4 for 6 on 3-pointers. But they committed 16 first-half turnovers, compared to just two for the Gophers, who turned the game around with a 19-0 run.

''Any time you come into a half and you've turned the ball over 16 times, that's a tough one. Especially against this team,'' Seahawks head coach Kevin Keatts said. ''I thought we had a decent second half, but . when two guys account for 11 turnovers in the first half against a good, explosive transition team, you just can't do that.''

TEED UP

Keatts was whistled for his first technical foul as a coach at UNCW when he complained too vociferously during Minnesota's big first-half run.

''I thought a couple bumps didn't go my way,'' Keatts said. ''Whether they were right or wrong, it's one of those situations that happens. I talked to the referee, we cleared it up and I think everything is fine.''

TIP-INS

UNCW: Keatts worked with Pitino when the two were assistants at Louisville during the 2011-12 season. Pitino served as associate head coach under his father, Rick, a role Keatts filled last year before taking over at UNCW.

Minnesota: The Gophers scored at least 80 points for the seventh straight game, their longest such streak since 1966. They also topped 100 points for the second time this year. The last time they had multiple 100-point games in a season was 1996-97, when they reached the NCAA Final Four.

SUBTERFUGE?

Pitino joked that Keatts might not have been completely honest with him in a pregame conversation they had about their respective teams.

''Kevin told me before the game that he likes his team, they just can't shoot,'' Pitino recalled. ''They hit 10 (3-pointers), so I don't know if he was playing mind games with me.''

UP NEXT

UNCW: The Seahawks wrap up nonconference play on Tuesday when they take on Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Minnesota: The Gophers open Big Ten play on Wednesday afternoon at Purdue.

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