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.

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Reliving Austin Hollins' big night, with some thoughts from Pitino

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: February 27, 2014 - 12:43 PM

A strange thing happened on Tuesday, with about 7 minutes to play in the first half.

The basket started growing. 

It got larger and larger with every second that soon, it was like tossing pennies through a hula hoop.

At least that's what it looked like to Austin Hollins, who broke out of his shooting slump in incredibly memorable fashion, finishing with a career-high 27 points and adding four assists, four rebounds and two steals.

After going 2-for-10 from behind the arc in his last four games, Hollins nailed an early three to give himself a chance to breathe. Then he had hit a pair of free throws about halfway through the first. Things were going well -- as well as they had in a long time.

And suddenly the dimensions of the rim -- which for several weeks had seemed about the size of a grapefruit whenever Hollins got into his shooting stance -- began to change.

"It does get a little bigger," he said. "You feel like you can make it from anywhere when you start knocking down shots."

So he did. 

With 6:23 left before the half, Hollins hit another three-pointer to bring the Gophers within five. Fifty seconds later, another. Fourteen seconds after that, he snatched the ball from Iowa's Aaron White and returned it for a layup. Less than a minute later, he hit another offering at the rim, then capped the insane run with a three-pointer with 1:51 left. 

Afterward, Gophers coach Richard Pitino had some touching words for Hollins in the locker room in this video released by the school:

"Austin's not playing well and everybody's doubting him," the coach said. "And the one thing you can all learn from him, top to bottom on this team -- the most impressive thing about him is he's the first one in the huddle to cheer everybody up. He's the first one in practice to talk, to lift everybody up.

"There's a reason why he's successful, he gets out of that and he doesn't feel sorry for himself. That was a big-time performance, man. That was big time. I'm so happy for you because I know how hard you work and you deserve success. And it's not always going to happen right away. We talk about pounding that rock and pounding that rock and nobody does it more than him. Nobody does it more than him."

Throughout Hollins' struggles in the Big Ten schedule, Pitino has maintained that his guard has kept one of the best attitudes on the team, rather than getting down on himself.

"You can't let that stuff get to you," Hollins said. "You've got to keep working. You've got to keep working. You've got to come to practice, work hard every day and it's going to pay off."

In the meantime, he's focused on his defense -- always his bread and butter as a player -- and trying to rebound or set up guys for shots.

Tuesday, it just looked like he was having fun again.

His teammates and Pitino said they knew it was bound to happen knowing just how much effort Hollins was putting in.

"That’s him, that’s not me," Pitino said. "He does that on his own. He is innately a very motivated kid with everything he does. He’s a special kid. A lot of young college kids would crawl into a shell when they’re not playing well. He believes in hard work, he believes that he’s going to come around, and he showed that [on Tuesday]."

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