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

Austin Hollins won't play at the Barn again, but he's happy with his 'Goodbye'

Posted by: Amelia Rayno under College basketball, Gophers coaches, Gophers players Updated: March 30, 2014 - 12:19 PM

Sunday morning, when Minnesota boarded its charter bound for New York and Madison Square Garden, Austin Hollins had already shed his last signature sweat-drenched home jersey in the Williams Arena locker room.

When the Gophers return from the NIT finale -- whether that's after Tuesday's semifinal against Florida State or whether it's on Friday after the championship -- No. 20's career at Minnesota will be over.

The finality of that still hadn't sunk in as the senior stood around at Bierman Field Athletic Building before practice on Saturday.

"I try not to think about it too much," he said. "I think it will probably set in more once my career is completely over. We're still playing so I haven't thought about it a whole lot ... it's a weird feeling knowing that I'm not going to be playing in the Barn again. Definitely a weird feeling."

His exit could not have been more graceful. 

In his last game at home, an 81-73 victory over Southern Miss, Hollins added a career-high 32 points to the 1,253 he had already collected during his four-year stopover. To that total, he added four assists and three turnovers.

Coach Richard Pitino pulled the Germantown, Tenn. native with five seconds on the clock.

Down in the locker room that night, Hollins had no plans to try to top such a moment. He didn't need a midnight solo shootaround to pay his respects to the raised court and musty rafters. The 5,444 fans that night gave him a better sendoff than he could have planned.

"I think that was the best way to say goodbye to it," he said, quietly.

It came amidst a season-ending surge that erased a mid-season slump from fans' minds in timely fashion. 

In the last eight games, Hollins is averaging 15.9 points. After managing just 8.5 points a game -- and converting just 13 of 56 shots (23.2 percent) from three-point range in his previous 16, the senior finally perked. It started with a 27-point barrage at home against Iowa, on Feb 25. And with the exception of the Gophers' second-round loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament (five points, two rebounds), he's been hot ever since.

He's filled the stat sheets when they matter the most, playing a major role in keeping Minnesota's season alive. 

Next season, Pitino will hope he can wring similar production from one of the incoming guards -- perhaps JUCO Carlos Morris. But the extra digits on the scoreboard are far from the only asset Hollins takes with him as he goes.

"We're going to miss him," Pitino said. "When he's rolling, he's really, really good. But just the intangible part of it. You know when he walks in the gym -- and not that any of our guys are really bad -- but you know he's always going to bring it, he's always going to be positive. Every single rep. Every single drill, he maximizes his potential. That's hard to replace.

"He's a great leader. Defensively he's very, very good. He gets a lot of steals, obviously. He's a calming influence. More than anything you just know that he's calm. Those are things you don't coach. I didn't get that out of him, that's his upbringing, his family and him as a person."

Since joining the Gophers in 2010, an unbending work ethich has marked the lanky wing's reputation, alongside that of his reliable nose for defense.

He's steadily improved each year, going from an average of 4.5 points his freshman year to 9.2 to 10.7 to 12.1 this year. He rebound averages have swelled from 1.5 to 2.8 to 3.2 to 5.1 this year.

His senior uptick comes even after a brutal mid-year sag.

"He was struggling," Pitino said. "It was just very simple. He wasn't making shots. He was cold. And I'm telling you, he just kept going with it. We went on the road ... he was just awful. He comes back the next day in practice. He could have easily tried to hide, and he was the loudest guy, the most vocal guy and he just keeps working and working. He's getting at them and that's the way it should be. For everybody else that watches him, he just deserves success."

Tuesday, he got a nice send-off as well.

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