Open-and-shut opener as Gophers coast

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2012 - 7:40 AM

The Gophers still haven't shown they can shoot from long range, but it didn't matter in a dominant first outing.

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The Gophers have said that with this deep team, the yoke can fall on anyone's shoulders on a given night.

Friday, it was Austin Hollins' turn.

Coming out with a contagious energy that spread throughout the squad, the junior guard grabbed control early, dominating on both ends of the floor and powering the Gophers to a season-opening 72-36 rout over American at Williams Arena.

"Austin set the tone," senior forward Trevor Mbakwe said. "I don't know if it was because it was his [21st] birthday yesterday or what, but he played excellent."

The sentiment spread. Despite the fact that the Gophers didn't find much competition against the Eagles, there was an impressive energy to the vibe Hollins ignited and the team maintained throughout.

Looking like the up-tempo, transition team they have stated they want to be, the Gophers leapt out to an aggressive start, putting full-court pressure on American and exhibiting a tangible energy as they quickly built a 15-0 lead.

Hollins led the way, scoring eight of the Gophers' first 10 points, including a transition dunk that resulted from a nifty swipe on the defensive end and got the announced crowd of 10,172 interested.

"We've definitely been working on that," said Hollins, who finished with a career-high 20 points, five rebounds and five steals. "In practice, we wanted to get out there and force them to have to handle the ball full court the whole game, and I think it really worked out. We got a lot of steals, a lot of deflections."

The Gophers had 15 steals, to be exact, and turned Eagles turnovers into 25 points overall, while recording just eight turnovers themselves.

Their pressing defense-transition offense marked a style coach Tubby Smith has long vocally hoped for, but the Gophers haven't really been able to pull it off for extended stretches in the past.

Friday, they pressed effectively for most of the game, harassing the offense up until the end.

"I think it's just us being comfortable out there with each other and knowing what everybody is capable of," said Rodney Williams, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds. "When you're comfortable with each other, you can leave your man to go double-team somebody and know that somebody else has got your back."

By halftime, the Gophers had built a 41-14 lead. They didn't let up after the break, although American slowed their roll a bit in the second half with a zone defense that had the Gophers slinging -- and missing -- shots from the perimeter.

Near the end, Hollins -- who missed his first six attempts from three-point range -- sunk one, and shook his head with relief, a reminder that despite the Gophers' improvements, there is still work to do.

They shot 4-for-22 from the perimeter, a litany of mistakes that was brushed over given the discrepancy in the score. But Smith knows it won't be that way going forward.

"We need to shoot better, and the only way we're going shoot better is get out there and shoot it," he said.

  • 2012-13 SEASON OPENER GOPHERS 72, AMERICAN 36

    Up next: 7 p.m. Monday vs. Toledo • Williams Arena • No TV (1500-AM)

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