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
Last night, many fans (and reporters) likely went into the Gophers game against South Dakota State thinking that Andre Hollins would hit the 1,000 points mark (he was 13 away before tipoff) and that Austin Hollins (17 away) had a chance.
Austin, of course, ended up stealing the show – going off for the performance of a career, scoring 20 points to go along with a stunning 14 rebounds, while Andre quietly had eight points, falling – as Austin said – a three-pointer and a layup short of achieving the milestone himself.
Undoubtedly, Andre is doing a lot of good things. His eight assists and two steals were big in a game where the Gophers had an impressive 21 assists to seven turnovers. He’s put up double-figure points in four of the last six games. He’s playing good defense, a Richard Pitino staple.
But it’s just as clear that with the Big Ten season a few weeks away, Andre Hollins is also not quite himself.
Against New Orleans, Hollins connected on five of nine field goals, the most makes he’s had in five games. He’s had no more than three field goals in the other four, going 11-for-42 from the field, or 26.1 percent, in those four.
Pitino has said repeatedly that he’s not bothered by Hollins not putting up massive scores every night, noting that he values the little things more. Reading between the lines, he probably gets that Hollins is in a bit of a shooting slump and knows that extra pressure doesn’t make baskets come any easier.
He also knows that in the meantime, Hollins can and does impact the game positively in other ways.
But what frustrated the coach about Tuesday night was that Hollins was trying to rely on a shot that wasn’t falling.
In the four games heading into Tuesday, the junior guard was still averaging 14.5 points a game despite his shooting woes because he’s been able to get to the line. In the previous four games, Hollins made 23 of 29 shots from the stripe. Then against SDSU, he was able to get there just once (making the shot). Hollins’ good size and speed makes him tough to guard – giving him a good chance of getting fouled on drives.
“Eight assists and three turnovers was great,” Pitino said. “The thing that I was disappointed in, he only got to the foul line one time. He was being a jumpshooter too much. He’s got the ability to get fouled and he’s got to do a great job of that. He can get 7, 8 points a game doing that. He’s got to do that more often.”
Slumps come and go for everyone, and this is a relatively good time for Hollins to have one if he’s going to – with a weak slate this time of year, the Gophers should have no trouble dispensing opponents even without his heroics. Anyone who knows Hollins shouldn’t be overly worried – the guard works hard at his craft and will bounce back.
But the correspondence of Hollins – the player most capable of exploding for big games – not quite being himself, and the team playing a bit sluggishly at times, is probably no coincidence.
Read my story on Austin Hollins' impressive night en route to eclipsing 1,000 career points here.
When Richard Pitino came out on the court before the Gophers' 75-59 win over South Dakota State, he noticed something a little more different than usual: hecklers.
It was his father, and two of his brothers, wrapped in maroon-and-gold scarves, there to surprise him.
"When I walked on the court and I saw [my dad] and I saw my idiot brother yelling at me or something, so I noticed all of them over there," the younger Pitino said with a smile. "It was great – a lot of fun ... I’m glad we got the win in front of him. I brag about this place so much that I wanted him to see it, so I’m happy he got a chance to come see it."
Pitino sat behind the bench with his son's wife, Jill, while the brothers sat one bleacher over. The father, who spoke to Big Ten Network at halftime, praising the Gophers program, visited Florida International for a couple of games last year. The veteran coach has a house in Miami.
"He looked good in maroon and gold," the son joked. "I think maybe if one of our guys gets a job, we’ll just slide him right in as an assistant coach. I did three years with him, he’s got to pay me back."
While he was in town, Pitino was able to witness a little bit of Gophers history -- with Austin Hollins reaching the 1,000-point plateau with an outstanding performance.
After the game, the Louisville coach -- who personally congratulated Hollins -- spoke to the team as a whole, his message echoing amongst the players.
"He told us we had the ability to be a Final Four team if we just think we’re a Final Four team," DeAndre Mathieu said. "Just go out there every day and get better on defense."
Asked whether he winced at his father pumping up the pressure on a rebuilding team with Final Four talk, the younger Pitino shrugged and noted he sees promise in the fundamental nature of the team, which is growing steadily.
"I think what he’s saying, and I said this to our team – two years ago when I was an assistant coach and we went to Final Four at Louisville, we started two walk-ons," Pitino said. "By no means am I saying we’re a Final Four team, but what we had on that team was great chemistry, great substance, we were very humble and we went on a run. If we don’t lose those things and obviously continue to get better, we could do the same. We’ve just got to believe it.
"I think one of the thing about our guys – and he said it to the team, the difference between our guys and his guys, they believe they’re all lottery picks and they believe they’re going to win the national championship. I’m not sure a guy in our locker room believes that just yet. But that comes with confidence, that comes with hard work, which we’re trying to build right now."
Other notes from tonight's win:
In case you missed it, my story in today's Star Tribune looking at five surprisng Gophers statistics through ten games.
Watch tonight's game vs.SDSU on the Big Ten Network. Listen on 1500-a.m.
There's a good chance fans at the Barn tonight, could view a little slice of history.
Heading into tonight's game against South Dakota State (7 p.m. tip-off), both Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins are sitting dangeously close to the 1000-point mark.
Andre Hollins is short just 14 points, with 986
Austin Hollins is short just 17, with 983
Could they reach the plateau together? It would seem fitting. Two of the three captains, the Hollins' are the heart and soul of the team, and the root of the backcourt on a squad that is going through a lot of transition.
"I’m pretty lucky to have two experienced, veteran guards in year one of just trying to build this program," Pitino said. "They’ve both done it before, they’re both really good players, great kids, never had a bad day – show up to work every single day. On and off the court, I mean, they both are the epitome of student-athletes. So I’m lucky to inherit those types of kids."
So far on the year, Dre Hollins is averaging 16.6 points a game, and Austin Hollins, 13.2.
The Gophers haven't had a pair of players reach the 1000-points landmark in the same year since 1993-94, when Randy Carter, Voshon Lenard and Arriel McDonald all hit the mark.
Other notes on tonight's matchup:
Mo Walker might not be starting again on Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean he didn't take good steps in his chance on Saturday, filling in for normal starting center, Elliott Eliason.
Before the matchup against New Orleans, coach Richard Pitino approached his backup big man and told him to take advantage of the opportunity.
Walker did that effectively, recording 11 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes (he missed most of the second half due to foul trouble) and getting more aggressive inside -- something he needs to continue to focus on -- as the game went on.
“I told him at halftime, you lost 60 pounds, you have earned the right to go out there and be very confident,” Pitino said. “You put in a lot of work that a lot of people have not done so go out there with the confidence that you deserve to be on this court. And I think he showed that, he did a good job.”
But now, with Eliason’s tweaked left ankle almost fully healed according to Pitino, Walker will likely re-take his spot coming off the bench.
Pitino hinted on Monday morning that he was toying with the idea of starting Walker anyway, but on Monday afternoon, he indicated he would hand Eliason back his job as long as the center practiced well on Monday late afternoon.
“I don’t want to say that he has to earn it back because he didn’t intentionally get hurt – so you don’t want to punish him for that,” Pitino said. “I would anticipate him starting -- Elliott. Because he didn’t do anything to lose that spot. It means more to those guys than it does to me. But I understand why it means something to them.”
The minutes on Saturday were probably beneficial for Walker, who is still sort of at the beginning of his season after sitting with a suspension (violating university policy) for the first six.
“I feel like it helped me build a little bit more confidence,” he said. “I felt pretty good out there, got a few points early, a few rebounds, so I just feel good about myself.”
But if Walker is going to command more minutes on a regular basis, he needs to continue to grow as a player. The opportunity on Saturday should be viewed as a starting point, not a peak. The Big Ten season, after all, is just around the corner, and both Walker and Eliason need to increase their toughness and strength under the basket. After Saturday’s game, Pitino commended Walker’s performance, but pointed out that such a performance is what should be expected of the center, given his frame and his role.
“He did some good things rebounding the ball – he’s big, he’s got size, he’s got to rebound the ball,” Pitino said. “I think he’s got to be more aggressive posting up.”
Richard Pitino realizes just what mental struggles have almost cost the team.
And that's why after just nine seconds in Minnesota's game against New Orleans on Saturday, the Gophers coach pulled Andre Hollins after the guard didn't run the play Pitino had set out.
At Monday's press conference with the media Pitino said the quick move "wasn't a big deal," and that Hollins reacted really well to the lesson.
But the point that the coach was trying to make to his players is that staying mentally focused IS a big deal, and he's not afraid to take out even his best player to assure he gets it.
After all, Minnesota was threatened by both Divison II Chaminade -- who led by 9 in the second half -- because of mental mistakes, and struggled against Coastal Carolina in similar fashion. After watching the film, Pitino cited bad decisions and sloppiness as the reason the Gophers never really got off and running against New Orleans -- even after Pitino highlighted the importance of focus by taking out Hollins -- and then collapsed somewhat in the second half.
"The mental part of this game is just as important as the physical part," said Pitino, noting he emphasized it more than ever in practice as the Gophers prepare for South Dakota State on Tuesday. "We stress it as much as possible, show them doing certain things. The first play of the game, Andre Hollins doesn’t run the play that we call, but I should have taken DeAndre [Mathieu] out, DeAndre just threw the ball out of bounds. So looking back at it, they just lost a little focus. So you stress those things over and over again and you show them that anybody can get beat on any given night. And we did some things against New Orleans that could have gotten us beat."
None of it, though, is due to bad attitudes, Pitino said. Hollins handled being pulled out well, just as he handles criticsm well in general, the coach noted.
"Andre Hollins, you’ll yell at him and he, like, smiles at you," Pitino said. "They’re all really, really easy to coach. For year one, they’re fun to be around on a daily basis."
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