Coming into the season, there were a lot of questionmarks surrounding the frontcourt. Even now, though the crew has been treading water, and doing some good things in the absences of suspended center Mo Walker, there are still many holes.
The backcourt is a different story.
And after Tuesday night's 84-58 win over Montana, the trio of guards is looking better than ever.
Andre Hollins continued his strong start to the season with 24 points, three rebounds and three assists, looking more than comfortable in his shifted role as shooting guard. Austin Hollins had a key second-half performance, recording the first double-double of his career with 11 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. And Deandre Mathieu had another stellar start, collecting five assists to two turnovers while scoring 15 points.
The chemistry there, seems to be operating on all cylinders. As Mathieu showed against Montana, he's more than willing to take some shots if he's able to get the ball in transition and drive to the basket. But when his shot is taken away or the Gophers are forced to play half-court offense, he's more than comfortable kicking it to Austin Hollins or Andre Hollins, the latter of which has seamlessly transitioned into a shooting guard role.
The Gophers don't just want to be good, though. Those three players have already discussed much more elite goals.
"We talked to each other before the game," Mathieu said. "We want to be the best backcourt in the couIt’s just a matter of pursuing the ball. When it goes up – you might not get it when you’re crashing the boards but when you’re in there, sometimes you get that lucky bounce and it just falls your way, but if you don’t crash the boards, you’re don’t get that opportunity.try or at least mentioned with the best backcourts in the country."
With the frontcourt full of holes and lacking in size, the emphasis is on the backcourt more than ever. Austin Hollins did his part to help out the big men on Tuesday, taking some time at the power forward spot in a four-guard lineup that has been used here and there -- and more importantly, grabbing all of the rebounds that he did.
"It’s just a matter of pursuing the ball," he said. "When it goes up – you might not get it when you’re crashing the boards but when you’re in there, sometimes you get that lucky bounce and it just falls your way, but if you don’t crash the boards, you’re don’t get that opportunity."
Other notes on tonight's game:
- The Gophers had their worst half of shooting of the year in the first, when they managed just 38.2 percent from the field. But they rallied in the second, posting a 51.9 percentage. Even more notably, Minnesota sank 11 three-pointers. "I think our fours [power forwards] can shoot the ball," coach Richard Pitino said. "I think our ones, twos and threes [point guards, shooting guards, small forwards]. I don’t think there is any guy on the team that can’t shoot the ball. Now certainly, you’re not going to make 11 threes, but I do believe we are a very good shooting team."
- Tuesday, perhaps marked the first time that the Gophers seemed to really embody the rebounding-by-committee approach that Pitino has preached. Nine players had at least two rebounds and five had three or more. Overall, Minnesota out-rebounded Montana, 45-29.
- The Gophers did the little things well on Tuesday. They had 14 assists to eight turnovers, played really strong defense, had seven blocked shots and nine steals.
- Two games into the season, Oto Osenieks has already doubled his three-pointer output from a year ago, when he went just 2-for-26 from the distance. He had two threes on Tuesday and finished with nine points and six rebounds overall.
- Wally Ellenson got into the game in the first half and got a few minutes in the second as well. The wing hadn't played at all in the season opener due to a disagreement with Pitino, according to the family. Ellenson hit a three-pointer for his first points of the year, and also grabbed two rebounds.