This is Amelia Rayno's third season on the Gophers men's basketball beat. She learned college basketball in North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!), where fanhood is not an option. In 2010, she joined the Star Tribune after graduating from Boston's Emerson College, which sadly had no exciting D-I college hoops to latch onto. Amelia has also worked on the sports desk at the Boston Globe and interned at the Detroit News.

  Follow Rayno on Twitter @AmeliaRayno

Andre Hollins diagnosed with severe ankle sprain ... but the Gophers are now able to sustain such a loss.

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: January 23, 2014 - 3:57 PM

Andre Hollins update: Gophers coach Richard Pitino confirmed to the Star Tribune on Thursday that Hollins' X-rays on a left ankle injury came back negative. The junior guard has been diagnosed with a "severe ankle sprain," which was confirmed by an MRI. However, Pitino said the Hollins will be evaluated daily, and has not ruled out that he will play on Sunday at Nebraska. Hollins was injured 14 seconds into Wednesday's game vs. Wisconsin, when he landed on a defender's foot after coming down from a jump shot. The guard was fitted for a boot and getting around on crutches in the locker room after the game.

At the beginning of the season, if we had been told that Andre Hollins would go down with an ankle injury just a few seconds into a game against No. 9 Wisconsin, we all probably would have chalked that one up to a loss.

What could they do? Their best player and offensive leader was down.

But the Gophers are so much more than that now.

At this point in the season, Hollins might not even be the most damaging loss in a game like this. That's not to say that the junior guard isn't a major part of what Minnesota does -- he was leading the team with 16.2 points a game coming into last night, after all -- but simply that the Gophers no longer rely on him to run the point (imagine if DeAndre Mathieu went down? Yikes.) and that they've found so much offensive balance around him in the backcourt.

That kind of variance instills a new confidence in both the players and those watching them. 

When a guy like Hollins hits the floor, they can look around at each other and think "Hey, we're OK."

The Gophers have Austin Hollins, who when he's being aggressive -- and he certainly was at the end of the game -- can be a major spark. They have DeAndre Mathieu, who might be one of the most talented little guys in the game when it comes to scoring on the drive. They have Malik Smith, who looked as sharp as he has all year against Wisconsin, playing very complete offense -- taking the ball to the hoop as well as creating opportunities for his teammates. We've seen him grow a ton, already, since the beginning of the season -- a statement that I guess holds for all of those guys.

None of that is to mention the newly invigorated frontcourt, the surprise of the season, with Mo Walker stealing the show last night with his career 18-point, nine-rebound performance and incredible lift in the first half. That, of course, is the kind of offensive equilibrium Minnesota needs in order to give their guards the space to operate effectively.

No, the Gophers are not solely The Andre Hollins Team any longer.

Still, such a dominant offensive performance (58.9 percent shooting from the field; 81 points on 58 possessions) with the star guard contributing only a few seconds is extremely meaningful for Minnesota. While the Gophers don't rely on Hollins in the same way as they thought they might, he's had huge offensive games in nearly every big win Minnesota has had, with the exception of the Ohio State victory. Take a look:

at Richmond: 26 points
vs. Florida State: 21 points
vs. Purdue: 17 points
vs. Ohio State: 10 points

At Michigan State, when the Gophers brought the Spartans to overtime at Breslin Center, Hollins had 24. At Iowa, when the Gophers authored a double-digit lead in the second half, Hollins had 20.

Then the Gophers were without him for the new "biggest game of the season" to that point, and, well, they did just fine. They thrived, in fact. 

That wasn't the case a year ago, when the Gophers lost seven of the nine league games that Hollins scored 13 points or fewer (and the two that they won with him scoring fewer than 13 were against Penn State and Northwestern).

With Hollins' status going forward uncertain, the new trend is a positive sign for the Gophers.

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