The Gophers basketball team was trailing 53-46 with under six minutes left against SMU in the NIT championship game Thursday night when senior guard Austin Hollins carried Minnesota, just as he had through the entire tournament, by scoring seven points — including the decisive three-pointer with 46 seconds to go — to end his Gophers career with a victory.
Hollins led all scorers, finishing with 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting. He finished the NIT with a 17.2-points-per-game average, far ahead of his 12.2 average during the regular season.
Yes, this was a tremendous finishing touch on a great and surprising season as the Gophers defeated SMU 65-63 to win the NIT. The way the team played in the tournament was a real credit to Gophers coach Richard Pitino and his staff.
After all, Pitino wasn’t hired until April 3 of last year, and most of the top recruits around the country had already made their college decisions since the final signing day for a national letter of intent was in May.
Being hired that late, he had no chance to recruit the Big Three here in Tyus Jones of Apple Valley, Reid Travis of DeLaSalle and Rashad Vaughn, the former Cooper star who transferred to Findlay Prep in Nevada for his senior year. Those three had already narrowed their choices of which schools they would consider.
The Gophers had lost the heart of last year’s team when Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe graduated, and some publications picked the Gophers to finish last in the Big Ten.
So you have to give Pitino a lot of credit for coming up with DeAndre Mathieu, who turned out to be one of the best guards in the Big Ten, and getting guard Malik Smith to transfer from Florida International. Mathieu scored 13 points to go along with seven assists in beating SMU. Smith only made two baskets, but both of them were important three-pointers that kept the Gophers in the game.
Pitino also added transfer Joey King from Drake, who made a lot of contributions throughout the season.
Despite the fact that the two top recruits from last year, Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs, contributed little (with Ellenson eventually leaving the team), the Gophers wound up with a 25-13 record, which is officially the most victories in school history.
Pitino now has a full season to recruit, plus having three scholarships available and only three seniors graduating in Austin Hollins, Maverick Ahanmisi and Smith. If Pitino can recruit like he can coach, the Gophers could be a contender next year.
The big challenge will be to replace Austin Hollins, but for a coach who was late in getting hired when many name coaches turned the job down, you have to give Pitino a lot of credit.
Love near record
Kevin Love, who recorded his second triple-double in four games when he scored 24 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had 10 assists in the Wolves’ 102-88 victory over Memphis on Wednesday, is closing in on a milestone.
Love needs 156 more points and 105 more rebounds to become the first player in 12 years and only the 15th player in NBA history to score over 2,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in a single season.
Love also now has 59 double-doubles this season, which leads the NBA. He also is fourth in the NBA in scoring at 26 points per game, third in rebounding at 12.6 per game and he leads power forwards in assists at 4.4 per game.
• The three top receivers for the Arizona Cardinals all hail from Minnesota. Larry Fitzgerald Jr. (Holy Angels) and Michael Floyd (Cretin-Derham Hall) were with the Cardinals last year. Now tight end John Carlson, who was with the Vikings last season, is with Arizona.
• Several basketball players who played their high school ball in Minnesota are still wearing NBA uniforms: Center Mike Muscala (Roseville in high school, Bucknell in college) is averaging 3.1 points for Atlanta. Guard Nate Wolters (St. Cloud Tech, South Dakota State) is averaging 7.2 points for the Bucks. Forward Alan Anderson (DeLaSalle, Michigan State) is averaging 7.3 points for the Nets. Forward Jon Leuer (Orono, Wisconsin) is averaging 6.4 points with Memphis. Center Cole Aldrich, (Bloomington Jefferson, Kansas) is averaging 1.5 points per game with the Knicks.