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Jake Bittle battled Maverick Ahanmisi for the loose ball in the second half.

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

NO. 14 GOPHERS 88, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 64

Up next: 9:30 p.m. Saturday at USC • No TV (1500-AM)

Gophers take charge early in home victory

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO
  • Star Tribune
  • December 5, 2012 - 6:25 AM

There is a distinct feeling Andre Hollins gets when he's in the zone, scoring in bunches and taking over a basketball game.

He's confident, aggressive, and in those moments, seemingly unstoppable.

The key for the Gophers sophomore guard is to learn how to harness that feeling -- to contain it and release it as needed -- but not to force it if it's taken away.

On Tuesday night, an announced crowd of 10,213 at Williams Arena saw another hint of his ability to do just that, when Hollins went off to score 20 of his game-high 22 points in the first half -- including six three-pointers on 6-for-7 shooting -- and set the tone early in the No. 14 Gophers' 88-64 rout of a Nate Wolters-less South Dakota State.

"I'm just really focused" in those moments, Hollins said. "I think that one of the things I have to start doing more consistently is playing like that, more intensely. ... I know I have to get better at staying focused the whole game, and come into every game focused."

Hollins isn't a superstar every game, but his increased comfort level and understanding of the game is apparent in his second year. He'll admit his offensive production comes as a result of his improved defense -- when he's executing well on that end of the court, he carries the momentum over to his offense.

It's clear Gophers coach Tubby Smith's trust in Hollins -- who had no turnovers, slowly but surely reversing that statistic from a year ago -- has substantially grown. The original plan was for him and junior Austin Hollins to split time guarding dynamic point guard Wolters, who sat out because of a turned right ankle.

Without him, the Jackrabbits (6-3) put up an initial fight but were quickly overwhelmed by the Gophers (9-1), who harassed a usually disciplined squad into 18 turnovers and 38.6 percent shooting from the field.

Meanwhile, it was quickly apparent that Hollins, who scored 41 points in the Gophers' victory against Memphis in the Bahamas, was feeling it again. The point guard hit three three-pointers in the first seven minutes, then three more in a span of 2 minutes, 31 seconds before the break, sparking the Gophers to a 48-24 halftime lead.

"We have been on that side, when people are hitting shots, it is discouraging," Austin Hollins said of his teammates' barrage. "It's tough to come back from something like that, especially when you can't stop it."

With a little more than 1 minute remaining in the first, Hollins had the crowd chanting his name. He forced a bad shot -- his only miscue of the half -- right before Smith took him out to spirited applause.

But as much as Hollins is learning to be the guy who scores, he's also learning to be the one who knows when his points aren't needed.

In the second half, the guard was more closely guarded and scored only two points, but Austin Hollins (17 points, five assists) and Joe Coleman (15 points, seven rebounds) each had strong efforts to pick up the slack. Their scoring made up for a quiet night from leading scorer Rodney Williams (two points), which ended an 18-game double-digits points streak for the senior forward.

"I've said a lot of times, we've got one of the deepest teams, definitely in the Big Ten and in the country right now," Williams said. "You never know who is going to go off on any given night -- and today it definitely wasn't me, so it's always a plus to have guys that can step up for you."

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