Before Tuesday night’s game against Montana, the Gophers’ second of the season, Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu sat down and made a pact of sorts.
“We want to be the best backcourt in the country, or at least mentioned with the best backcourts in the country,” Mathieu said.
It seems the trio has gotten off to a good start in pursuing that goal.
Together, the three guards combined for 50 of the team’s points in an 84-58 victory over the Grizzlies, carrying a team that has thus far been cruising, even without suspended center Mo Walker.
The Gophers outrebounded Montana 45-29, seeming to embody for the first time the rebounding-by-committee approach coach Richard Pitino has pleaded of them. The Gophers (2-0) turned the ball over only eight times while dishing out 14 assists, blocking seven shots and recording nine steals.
But it was the guards who stole the show.
Andre Hollins continued his strong start to the season with 24 points, three rebounds and three assists, looking more than comfortable in his shift to shooting guard. Austin Hollins had a key second-half performance, recording the first double-double with 11 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. And Mathieu had another stellar start, scoring 15 points while collecting five assists and committing just two turnovers.
“If we can get those three guys to continue to elevate their game, I think we’ll be a tough team to guard, especially out on the perimeter,” Pitino said.
The early dominance is something fans expected from the Hollins duo, who were the only two returning players who played major minutes last year.
But now, there’s a new addition to the backcourt in Mathieu — another Tennessee native, no less, to join the pair from Memphis — who already has made a big impact early in the Gophers’ season.
Andre Hollins had his shot going from the start, hitting three three-pointers in the first five minutes to give Minnesota a 16-5 lead. But Mathieu was a critical cog in Minnesota’s first-half offense as well. The 5-9 point guard aggressively drove to the basket and got to the foul line six times in a half in which the Gophers made only 38.2 percent of their shots from the field.
When Mathieu was able to get the ball out in transition he was brilliant, blowing past defenders and sneaking to the rim before Montana (0-1) had time to react. When the Gophers were relegated to a half-court game, he still got inside the lane before deftly kicking the ball out to one Hollins or another.
By halftime, the Gophers were up 40-26 and in the second half, Austin Hollins jumped in to provide nine points and six rebounds down the stretch to keep the Gophers two steps ahead of the Grizzlies.
“He’s so crafty and quick, he gets me a lot of shots because the defense collapses on him,” Andre Hollins said of Mathieu. “It’s made me a better defender because I have to guard him in practice.”
Since before the season began, the frontcourt has been viewed as the Gophers’ weakness. But two games in, the backcourt seems as productive as ever. Austin Hollins has led the guards’ rebounding efforts, with the three starters combining to pull down 15 boards. Andre Hollins has been the scoring leader, with 42 total points. Mathieu has been the pleasant surprise, taking over the floor general duties with seamless efficiency.
Can the Gophers’ backcourt become one of the best?
They are playing like they believe they can.