One glance at almost any Gophers basketball boxscore tells the story:
The Minnesota starting backcourt is the team's strength, and the Gophers' best hope to surprise opponents with a tough schedule ahead.
Now, with potentially a thinner frontcourt than Minnesota has had all year after losing forward Joey King to a jaw contusion after a second-half collision Tuesday night, the reliance on the dynamic trio is going to be even greater. Guards Andre Hollins (19 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Austin Hollins (15 points, three rebounds, four assists), along with point guard DeAndre Mathieu (17 points, four rebounds, six assists) lifted the Gophers (4-0) past defensive struggles to finish on a strong note and slip by Coastal Carolina 82-72.
"We've learned we've got to play hard," Mathieu said. "We're not going to out-talent too many people, that's what Coach tells us. We've just got to be out being the hardest-playing team in the country. So we've learned that when we play hard, we win games."
But as strong as the backcourt has been early on, there are concerns about the frontcourt.
With 11 minutes, 43 minutes to go in the second half, Minnesota led by only three points at 51-48 after a scary moment on the court that took King out for the remainder of the game. A head-on-head collision between Andre Hollins and King had the latter looking shook up as he attempted to get up. Ultimately, King — who will be re-evaluated Wednesday — walked off the court on his own. Center Elliott Eliason picked up 11 rebounds to go with eight points but had to play 34 minutes, and the Gophers still managed only 33 boards.
Center Mo Walker also wasn't available as he served the fourth of his six-game suspension for violating university policy.
"Hopefully it's nothing too serious," Pitino said of King's injury after the game. "But yeah, we're undermanned and especially in the frontcourt, even more undermanned, it would be very difficult. Hopefully we'll get some good news [Wednesday]."
With King on the bench, the Gophers lit up the Chanticleers (1-3) with a 10-2 run to take a 61-50 lead with 8:41 left and gain the separation they'd been trying to create all game. After Andre Hollins' strong 15-point performance in the first half, it was his backcourt teammates that took off down the stretch. Austin Hollins scored nine consecutive points to keep the Gophers' 11-point advantage, while Mathieu kept up the momentum.
The Gophers, who pulled off an impressive victory over Richmond on the road Saturday, had a lot of trouble pulling away up to that point. After getting out to a 25-19 lead via a monstrous put-back dunk by Austin Hollins, the Coastal Carolina defense slowed the Gophers to a crawl. The Chanticleers broke Minnesota's press and hit five three-pointers over the Gophers' 2-3 zone in the first half and nine overall. On offense, the Gophers looked content to fling up perimeter shots, attempting 17 three-pointers in the first half and making six overall (Minnesota finished eight of 28 from beyond the arc).
"We fell in love with the three," Andre Hollins said. "They were going under screens, and they were giving us a lot of open shots but we should have attacked them, gotten to the foul line. … We didn't attack them like we attacked Richmond."
Minnesota has a quick turnaround with a game Thursday against Wofford (S.C.), the team's final home game before embarking for the Maui Invitational, which begins with a matchup against No. 9 Syracuse on Monday.