Regardless of the opponent Monday night -- and yes, Mount St. Mary's is plenty depleted from what it hoped to be at the start of the season for various reasons -- it was hard not to find encouraging signs for the Gophers as they improved to 4-0 with an 85-56 victory. Among the highlights:
*Austin Hollins led five players in double-figures with 14 points and added six assists, both of which were career highs. He made two three-pointers -- though both came in the first 90 seconds, after which he sent 0-for-4 from long-distance -- and generally helped the Gophers set a tone that led to a 51-18 halftime lead against an inferior opponent.
*Rodney Williams had five dunks (accounting for all his made field goals), many of the crowd-pleasing variety. Yes, we've seen that from Williams before, and no his game is not perfect. But there's no denying the Williams Arena crowd and Williams' teammates feed of his energy when he delivers a high-flying play.
*Andre Hollins set a career high in points (13) for the second consecutive game. More importantly, he only had two turnovers after coughing up five his last time out against Fairfield. One of his turnovers came on the first possession of the game; he cleaned it up from there, and the Gophers as a team had just nine turnovers, a season-best.
*Freshman Joe Coleman had a career-best 10 points and added four points in 18 minutes. After looking lost at times on the court against Fairfield on Thursday, Coleman looked much more confident and sure of himself Monday.
*Elliott Eliason, starting in place of Ralph Sampson (ankle), contributed four points and four rebounds in 14 energetic minutes. "I thought Elliott was just what we needed," head coach Tubby Smith said. Smith added that he hopes to have Sampson for Thursday's Old Spice Classic opener against DePaul. It seems likely Sampson, who turned his ankle against Fairfield and did not practice before missing Monday's game, will be back soon. Regardless, Monday had to be a nice confidence-booster for Eliason.
*Kudos, too, for Chris Halvorsen's first career point as a Gopher -- which came on a late free throw and drew a nice cheer from the crowd.
Any negatives? Well, Smith thought the team got a little sloppy with shot selection at times and wasn't wild about Minnesota's 20-for-31 performance at the free-throw line (64.5 percent) after its sterling 27-for-31 effort Thursday. But there wasn't much to complain about after a 29-point victory -- a win that involved a little breathing room for the first time all season. It will be a confident bunch that boards the plane Tuesday for Orlando; how much of a factor that will be against better competition in the next handful of games remains to be seen.