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December 11, 2013
Minnesota beats SDSU 75-59
MINNEAPOLIS - Even with every player on the roster healthy and available, Minnesota was going to be thin in the frontcourt this season.
Austin Hollins, with every inch of his 6-foot-4 frame, has been doing all he can to help.
Hollins scored 20 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds, and Minnesota pulled away from South Dakota State for a 75-59 victory Tuesday night.
"He's a pro," teammate DeAndre Mathieu said. "I didn't doubt it. I knew he was going to bring his all. Coach challenged him to be the best rebounder in the Big Ten, and he's bringing it."
Mathieu added 15 points, and Elliott Eliason had 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks for the Gophers (9-2), who had 21 assists and only seven turnovers. They held a 40-30 rebounding advantage, due in large part to the lanky leaper Hollins who'd be a shooting guard on some teams but has been playing both of the forward spots on this quick-but-small squad. Hollins entered the night 10th in the conference in rebounds and raised his per-game average to 7.4.
"I definitely couldn't have predicted that, but I put in a lot of work in the offseason and it's really starting to pay off. I can really see the changes," Hollins said.
Jordan Dykstra led the Jackrabbits (4-7) with 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Chad White added 15 points.
"Nobody on our team feels good about this. We're not consistently doing the tough things," coach Scott Nagy said. "There's no reason why Minnesota would play harder than us. We should have every motivation in the world."
The Gophers had a special guest behind their bench, with coach Richard Pitino's father, Rick Pitino, wearing a maroon-and-gold scarf over a matching Minnesota jacket and shirt. The Louisville coach took advantage of a night off to travel north and support his son's new team, and he looked every bit the fan in his seat, clapping emphatically and wincing when plays went against the Gophers.
He greeted the team in the locker room afterward. Nobody knew he was going to be there until he showed up in his seat.
"I really appreciated it. That was fun. I'm glad we got the win in front of him," Richard Pitino said. "I brag about this place so much that I wanted him to see it, so I'm happy he got a chance."
SDSU is not the same without Nate Wolters, the program's all-time leading scorer, Summit League Player of the Year and third team Associated Press All-American who's now in the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks.
This is a team with plenty of experience left from two NCAA tournament appearances and a total of 52 wins over the last two seasons, though, with three returning starters in Brayden Carlson, Dykstra and White.
"We just didn't make the tough plays that we needed to to come up with the win," White said. "Minnesota, when you don't make those plays, they make you pay."
SDSU tied the game at 21 on a 3-pointer by Carlson with 7:36 left before the break. But the Gophers scored the final five points of the first half, including a baseline jumper by Hollins, who picked up where he left off after the intermission with a 3-pointer from the corner in the opening seconds to stretch the lead to 39-28.
Mathieu followed with a couple of 3-pointers of his own, and the Gophers quickly had a comfortable lead. Andre Hollins struggled to find his shot all night, but he finished with eight assists and didn't lose any aggressiveness. He used a spin dribble to set up a double-pump bank shot he sank from the edge of the lane as he fell to the court with 4:09 left. He picked up a foul, made the free throw and stretched the lead to 69-52.
Austin Hollins followed with a layup that put him over 1,000 career points, prompting a chant of his name from the crowd at the next stoppage of play.
"He just uses his athleticism. He's always had a good court sense. He knows where to be," Eliason said.
The Gophers have had their struggles with three new starters and this thin frontcourt, but there are signs of progress with Pitino's style.
"We've talked a lot about looking ourselves in the mirror, understanding our weaknesses and everybody making up for everything else," Pitino said. "And Austin was one of those guys. We said, 'You're going to have to get us 7 or 8 rebounds a game.'"
So far so good.
"He is such an easy kid to coach, it's almost disturbing," Pitino said.