Scoggins: Tubby's happy feet, Gophers victory are fruits of playing loose

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 15, 2013 - 10:40 PM

 More important than surviving clunk-fest with Badgers was Andre Hollins' tone-setting.

A video of Tubby Smith shaking his booty went viral Friday morning. That's a sentence one doesn't type very often.

A Gophers staff member captured the wild scene in the locker room after Smith's team survived a bricklaying contest against Wisconsin, 58-53 in overtime, in what felt like one of those pivotal moments in a season. Afterward, Smith gathered his team, Ke$ha came over the speakers and Tubby lost himself in the moment like a guy in the middle of a dance club, minus the lower lip bite.

He pumped his fist in the air and shimmied side to side. At one point, senior Trevor Mbakwe grabbed Smith, threw him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry and bobbed up and down. Their celebration looked like a basketball bachelor party, an opportunity for the Gophers to relax, cut loose and just enjoy themselves.

It also proved again that winning serves as a powerful antidote to frustration and general malaise that fester in bad times.

We'll soon find out whether what happened inside the Barn on Thursday sparks a revival that halts their free fall, or if it's just a one-game relief against a cockeyed-shooting Wisconsin team that committed a brain-cramp turnover in the final 30 seconds of regulation.

The most encouraging development for the Gophers, though, was the re-emergence of sophomore point guard Andre Hollins as their leader, a guy who will take and make clutch shots and not turn the ball over.

Hollins finished with a game-high 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. He also played 43 minutes without committing a turnover.

Hollins remains the key to this team's ability to fulfill its promise because the Gophers follow his lead. He is their most important player and 'X' factor, not Mbakwe or Rodney Williams or Austin Hollins.

The Gophers are at their best when Andre Hollins is at his, and whatever this team accomplishes over the next month will depend largely on his play. That statement holds true for most teams and their point guard, of course. But Hollins is a natural shooting guard being asked to run an offense as the primary ball handler while also actively looking to score. Some games he's better at that than others.

That push-pull mindset occasionally causes him to be indecisive with the ball, which results in careless turnovers. But he puts pressure on defenses when he's attacking and his shots are falling. He's their leading scorer and most reliable option on offense who has shown on multiple occasions that he's capable of carrying his team.

Like the rest of his teammates, Hollins' game has experienced ebbs and flows recently. Smith invited Hollins to lunch Wednesday to talk about how the offense can function more effectively. The coach and point guard spent 45 minutes at a campus sandwich shop going over Hollins' role, how he can make his teammates better and the need for him to remain aggressive at all times. They never had done that outside of the basketball offices.

"It was a good talk," Hollins said. "I like that he can trust me with telling me what he wants done. It gives me confidence. He let me know that I'm kind of a coach out there on the floor. I want to show him that he can have faith in me."

The Gophers need Hollins to pressure the ball defensively and push the pace on offense. They're a different team when they don't get bogged down in their half-court offense. That starts with Hollins' ability to handle the ball, make shots and play with confidence.

"I have the ball in my hands most of the time and I'm guarding the ball the most," he said. "My teammates are looking at that and they feed off it. I need to bring energy every night so my teammates can feed off that."

Smith noted after Thursday's game that his team's slump created a toxic environment. He described it as the "sky was falling around here." Sift through all the psychobabble and the Gophers looked tighter than yoga pants. They seemed concerned about making a mistake or missing a shot or getting screamed at by Smith.

Smith told his team before the game to relax and just play. He said he didn't care if they had 50 turnovers as long as they won, though he probably hoped his players didn't take him literally. Hollins understood the message as much as anyone.

"We've tried so hard not to mess up that we end up messing up," he said. "He just wanted us to play freely and loose."

Their performance wasn't the prettiest, but they made enough plays to win and finally were able to breathe again.

And then they danced to Ke$ha. Obviously.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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