Read my full story on Minnesota's 79-71 win over Illinois here (updated version will be posted as soon as its edited).
Three observations from the Gophers' second win in three games:
Andre Hollins is back and maybe better than ever. The senior guard has now scored 80 points in the last three games. He's attacking the basket in a way we didn't see for weeks on end. The confidence is clearly pumping through his veins. He showed that pure scorer's mentality today, taking his looks however they came. Two games ago (vs. Rutgers) we saw him dunk. Today, he posted a pair of blocks, including a vicious one on Malcolm Hill's attempted slam. He's doing so many different things now, but his big-scoring capability is absolutely the most important -- when he puts up numbers like this, it changes the team. His play prompted Illinois coach John Groce to pull him aside and laud his competitiveness and it pushed Minnesota to another much-needed win.
Mathieu is probably a better fit to start. After giving freshman Nate Mason the nod for the previous three games, coach Richard Pitino handed senior DeAndre Mathieu back his starting spot on Saturday. And it looked smart. The Gophers' were moving the ball as well as they had in all of conference play, and Mason -- fresh off a rare "off game" at Nebraska -- played every bit as well as he has all year off the pine, posting 10 points, three rebounds, six assists and two turnovers. The reality is, the minutes don't matter much but the title does. Mason is likely going to give Minnesota the same thing regardless but Mathieu -- although he says he doesn't -- probably cares a little more.
Maybe this team really is close? This win provided a glimpse into how good the Gophers (13-8; 2-6 in the Big Ten) can be when everything comes together -- and it starts with Walker and Hollins. When those two are rolling like they were today, this team is hard to guard and hard to beat. The other thing that shone were the team's physicality, probably the best of the year, especially on the boards. And Minnesota made a respectable percentage of free throws (75.9). If those three things come together on a regular basis, the Gophers could turn this ugly start around.
Bonus: Did Mo Walker get robbed? The center was called for a block late on Kendrick Nunn in the second half, giving him four fouls and sending him to the bench. The effort got him a big gash over his left eye, and four stitches.
"I thought I got a clean block up top, he said. "I know he came down with the follow through...
I wasn't really happy with that play but other than that I can't really argue with the refs calls."