AUSTIN, TEXAS – A three-pointer, three consecutive free throws and a jumper.
In the span of 96 seconds, Austin Hollins, Andre Hollins and Joe Coleman combined to ward off a second-half surge from UCLA.
When it works, it seems so natural that it’s hard to understand why it’s so rare.
Each guard has its role, and when each player executes it, the 11th-seeded Gophers can be a very formidable team indeed.
The key word here is when.
Friday, Andre Hollins aptly handled the role of the leader, Austin Hollins was the glue guy and the spot shooter and Coleman provided dynamic scoring. However, the number of times the three have synced up in such a way have been few and far between this season.
Finding that synergy once again in the NCAA tournament could help to turn the Gophers’ key to the Sweet 16.
“When all three of those guys are playing to that level, we’re able to put pressure on the defense, inside–outside,” Trevor Mbakwe said Saturday of his teammates. “Joe’s a great slasher, and when he’s knocking down outside shots, it just opens up the game so much more because teams can’t sag off of him. It hasn’t been that often, I don’t think, that all three of them were on fire like they were yesterday. But it definitely makes us a better team, and when they’re playing that way, we could go pretty far.”
Heading into Sunday’s game against third-seeded Florida, the three guards had managed to score at least 12 points each in the same game only once since the nonconference schedule — and that was Friday, in the NCAA tournament-opening victory over UCLA. They did it twice before that, against Florida State and South Dakota State, but though Hollins, Hollins and Coleman are together averaging 11.7 points a game this year, they couldn’t manage to all go off at once at any point in the Big Ten schedule.
The potential for danger is there — but finding it all at once is a little tougher.
“When we’re knocking down shots … we’re hard to beat,” Andre Hollins said. “When we’re making shots, it makes up for mistakes.”
Mistakes were few for the Gophers on Friday — they had only 11 turnovers and outplayed UCLA in most respects.
But finding that dominance in the backcourt once again will be all the more critical against the Gators, whose quick, athletic guards and style of play will pose a challenge to the Gophers, even if they are clicking on all cylinders.
Two of Florida’s guards, Mike Rosario and the lightning-fast Kenny Boynton, are seniors, while the Gophers have no fourth-year players in those positions. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin has a reputation for his smothering on-ball pressure; he is the leader on a team that will likely try to press the Gophers plenty.
Still, the Gophers have a chance to take advantage of the backcourt of Florida, a team that thrives in the half-court set, shoots plenty of three-pointers and harasses opponents into turnovers on 21.8 percent of their possessions. But if the Gophers backcourt falls apart under the pressure, the frontcourt — which goes up against able big men Erik Murphy and Patric Young — could have its work cut out for it.
“He’s huge,” Mbakwe said of Young. “I’m looking forward to that challenge. Erik Murphy, the guys coming off the bench, they crash the boards pretty hard. It’s going to be a man’s game [Sunday].”
Against UCLA, when the Gophers had room for error, they executed pretty well across the board. Against Florida, however, Minnesota likely will need every bit of that efficiency, if not more.
That means that even though the Gophers’ backcourt barrage and truly balanced attack against UCLA might have been unusual, Minnesota probably will need it again to survive Florida on Sunday.
“We would win every game if they would play like that and if people didn’t take things away from them,” Gophers coach Tubby Smith said of his guard trio. “We would probably be undefeated right now. But unfortunately — I don’t know if it’s frustration, its just us finding that next person, player, that can pick up those pieces and be effective.”