Read my full take on tonight's win here.
For weeks, Gophers coach Tubby Smith has been saying that this Gophers team lacks a leader.
“I mean, I’m sure he’s there, but I’d like to see him surface,” the coach said on Tuesday.
On Friday, he stepped up. Again.
Say hello to the Andre Hollins you remember from last year.
The point guard hit five threes against UCLA (a Gophers tournament record), performed in clutch moments and led Minnesota with 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists to just one turnover.
It was exactly the recipe the Gophers needed for a momentous 83-63 win over UCLA – the first Minnesota win in the Big Dance since 1997, and the first non-vacated win since 1990 – and a ticket to the second round, when they will play 3-seed Florida at 5:10 on Sunday on TNT.
“Growing up as a little kid, you dream of these moments,” Hollins said.
Perhaps the most impressive thing was that when UCLA made two small comebacks -- which could have quickly gotten out of hand -- Minnesota responded by puttings its foot on the Bruins' throats. First came Hollins with his 3-pointers and the 10-3 run that was all his own, and then Joe Coleman helped nail the coffin, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the last 8:37.
It’s amazing what this team can do if its hitting shots. But Hollins’ shooting wasn’t the only thing that went well for the Gophers on Friday.
They played a zone effectively – players said they hadn’t practiced the zone much, but that they stuck with it when it was so effective (Smith said they had planned to use the zone a lot all along) and used the press well. They limited turnovers (11), particularly in the first half (3). They scored 20 points off UCLA turnovers and crushed the opponent in the paint, 34-24. And they ran the Bruins, who had a very thin bench to start, out of the building.
All of that combined to provide a blowout win despite the fact that the Gophers didn’t really do the one thing they were expected to be good at – killing the Bruins on the boards – all that well (the Gophers had 36 rebounds to UCLA’s 42).
Now, perhaps the biggest challenge will be for the Gophers to keep the intensity they showed on Friday, rather than suffering a letdown as they have so many times this year -- and for Andre Hollins to keep his hot touch and proclivity to lead.
Other notes on tonight’s victory:
- This marked the Gophers’ first NCAA tournament game since 1997, and it’s first non-vacated tourney win since 1990. The 20-point win was also the largest margin of victory for Minnesota in a non-vacated tournament game.
- Besides Andre Hollins’ record, Austin Hollins set a career high in assists (7).
- Twas an ugly start. The Gophers and UCLA combined to go 0-12 from the field before any field goal was hit. Minnesota got on the board first with a layup from Elliott Eliason after five minutes and 20 seconds.
- Shabazz Muhammad had 20 points in the first half for UCLA, but went 0-for-7 from the field in the first, allowing the Gophers to create a 10-point lead at halftime. The LA Times published a story on Friday on Muhammad, finding that the UCLA star was actually 20, not 19. Said Muhammad: “It is hard to play in the NCAA tournament. I think we had a lot of jitters coming out but all in all, I think they deserved to win. They played better basketball than us.”
- Smith said he wanted to use a lot of guys from the start. He played 11 Gophers six minutes into the game. Yesterday, he said he wasn’t sure how he wanted to use a bench that has been up and down. But the reserves’ ability to give valuable minutes was huge in keeping Minnesota’s legs fresh with all the pressing and running – and wearing UCLA out on the other end. Quite effective.
- Smith said he and his staff hadn’t done much pre-work for Florida yet. “I haven’t watched them play” (other than Friday), Smith said. He said the assistants had watched some film already.