We've been waiting for a leader.
Someone to step up and take the reins. Someone to make the big shots. Someone to provide a spark to the team, to get them going and keep them there.
We've been waiting for that, all year long.
And -- as I wrote in today's Star Tribune -- it looks as if we've finally spotted one, even if it's not who we expected.
Andre Hollins looked the part and more as he went off for a career-high 25 points (with five rebounds) and pushed the Gophers to a first-round win over Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. He got the team going, scoring 13 of the first 15 points Minnesota had, and once everyone else got going, the team rolled.
And here's the difference that presence makes: in a late, close-game situation -- the one the Gophers have struggled in all season -- they had the confidence to prevail and the guy willing to take the big shots to get them there.
That, is what makes a team win games. And that is what gives suddenly gives the Gophers life, and the fans the realistic ability to dream.
Other notes from the 75-68 win:
- Hollins shot five three-pointers in the game, becoming only the third player in Gopher history to do so in a Big Ten tournament game. The others were Quincy Lewis and Kerwin Fleming.
- Elliott Eliason started in place of Ralph Sampson III -- who is dealing with a tweaked knee, and is still questionable for Friday. Eliason scored four points and after picking up four fouls was limited at the end, when the Gophers went to a smaller lineup (with four guys plus Rodney Williams). Eliason did, however, pick up a career high in rebounds with ten.
- Four players -- Julian Welch (11), Hollins, Austin Hollins (12) and Williams (12) -- scored in double digits. Welch came off the bench for his first game since missing two with a hip pointer. Austin Hollins added seven rebounds to his point total.
- The Gophers hit 11 three-pointers tonight, as did Northwestern. The 22 combined threes is a record for any Big Ten game ever.
- After making nine three-pointers in the first half, the Wildcats made just two in the second half, when the Gophers switched up their defense to press more and focus on the perimeter.
- The Gophers out-rebounded the Wildcats, 44-29. It might have been an even greater deficit if it wasn't for the Gophers going small later in the second half.
- With the loss, Northwestern is likely pushed off the NCAA bubble. The Wildcats have never gone to the Big Dance.
- Northwestern's JerShon Cobb also had a career-high tonight, leading the team with 24 points.
- The Gophers will play 2-seed Michigan tomorrow, whom they haven't faced since the second game of the season. Michigan had a piece in the Big Ten title in a three-way tie with Ohio State and Michigan State.