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

Gophers pregame: Austin Hollins still critical down the stretch

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: February 19, 2014 - 5:36 PM

Tonight's game vs. Illinois tips at 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on BTN and 1500-a.m.

In today's Star Tribune: Gophers' D is improving. But it still has a ways to go. Previewing both teams here. 

With just over three minutes to play at Northwestern, Wildcat center Alex Olah came down on Mo Walker's foot, turning his ankle as the Gophers were grabbing the rebound. As the play continued, Andre Hollins drove in and kicked the ball over to Austin Hollins, who was waiting on the wing.

Swish. The Gophers were up by five, a gap that would prove too much for Northwestern to over come. 

For a player who had only made one other shot all game -- and had been struggling offensively for the last three contests -- it was encouraging to see.

"There were a couple that I had missed earlier in the game that I thought were going in, so I just hadn't taken that many shots," Hollins said. "So when I had the open look, I was very confident shooting it and I knocked it down."

Coach Richard Pitino said he thinks part of the problem is that Hollins is trying to force shots he doesn't practice -- shots that are low-percentage at best -- such as the transition pull-up jumper.

"I said Austin, you're a good shooter," Pitino said. "It would be like if I go out and play golf, I don't hit my three-wood well, and I keep going to my three-wood. I said, 'Stop doing that!' That's a hard shot to take. And you saw later in the game and he hit a big shot. I think it's a hard shot to take, I think he needs to stop taking it.

"I've told him about it. I want him to play with great freedom. But just shoot shots that we work on. And that's a difficult one."

In general, with his jump shot not falling for much of the Big Ten slate, Hollins -- who is averaging 6.6 points in the last three games and 9 in the Big Ten overall -- has tried to do other things. He's corralled six rebounds in three of the last six games. Against Northwestern, he was huge in holding leading scorer Drew Crawford to a 1-for-15 night from the field.

Nonetheless, with the Gophers barreling toward the postseason, the Gophers will need his offense. Minnesota hasn't shown the ability to put teams away all year -- so every player will be key tonight vs. Illinois. Tonight's win will have big NCAA tournament implications, probably putting the Gophers on the edge of the bubble with a loss. And for  Hollins, he know he won't get many chances -- to play on this court, to go against Big Ten teams, to rise to the occasion.

"I've been thinking about that all season," Hollin said. "Not in a bad way, I just use that to motivate me. This is my last go-around. A lot of the places that we play, I'm not going to be back there another year. So I'm just trying to make the most of it while I can."

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