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Updated: March 21st, 2013 1:18pm
Gophers' Austin Hollins reemerging as an outside threat at a key time

Gophers' Austin Hollins reemerging as an outside threat at a key time

by Nate Sandell
1500ESPN.com
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Austin Hollins' shooting touch had been missing in action for the latter part of the Gophers' slog through Big Ten play.

Minutes into the Gophers' first round Big Ten tournament game against Illinois, he knew his wayward shot was finally coming back. A quick jumper off an assist from guard Joe Coleman was followed one possession later by a textbook 3-pointer that served as a stress reliever for the junior guard.

"It just started falling," said Hollins, the Gophers' second-leading scorer. "The first shot went in and seeing it go through the net, it always helps."

Although two early fouls landed the suddenly red-hot Hollins on the bench for much of the first half, he would go on to notch 16 points, with a 3-of-4 mark from 3-point range.

A buzzer-beating shot by Illinois' Brandon Paul soured Hollins' strong resurgence and has the Gophers stumbling into the NCAA tournament on a three-game losing streak.

But Hollins' outburst was a much-needed silver lining for a team desperately searching for anything to build off entering their opening match-up on Friday against the UCLA Bruins.

After a 12-game stretch of ineffectiveness from the perimeter, Hollins is fitting back into his identity as an outside threat -- a trait the Gophers have been sorely missing.

From the 2:11 mark in the first half of the Gophers' season finale loss to Purdue, Hollins has put up 25 points and converted five of his eight 3-pointer attempts, one more than his total from the previous eight games.

The sample size is very small - two games or essentially 62 minutes of game time - but after such a prolonged slump a push in the right direction is noteworthy.

"I definitely feel like I'm back in a rhythm again," Hollins said. "It's starting to fall down for me. I'm feeling good about my shot and am confident."

Hollins is never one to talk openly about his struggles, but his on-court swagger had been dragging as shot after shot refused to go in. Before facing Purdue, the "U" captain had made only two of his 22 outside attempts in a six-game span. Take it back to the last 12 games, he was shooting 15% from 3-point range (8-of-53) and 33% overall from the floor (36-of-108).

It wasn't for a lack of trying. Hollins has remained second on the team in shot attempts (282) behind point guard Andre Hollins. With Austin unable to locate his outside scoring touch, the Gophers were left with only one other legitimate perimeter option - Andre Hollins.

When both have struggled, the Gophers have faltered considerably, caving in on the defensive pressure being placed inside as a result. In Minnesota's most lopsided losses this season - routs at Iowa and Ohio State - the Hollins duo hit just three 3-pointers (3-of-16) combined.

Following a rocky stretch in the heart of the Big Ten season, Andre Hollins started to find his shooting rhythm in the Gophers' final home game - an emphatic 73-44 victory. Including that game, he is boasting a 42% shooting percentage, up nearly four percent from his season average (38.6%).

Austin Hollins' drought took longer to squelch, but he finally saw the extra hours he had been spending before and after practice trying to hone his shot begin to take effect.

"You never tell a shooter to stop shooting," Andre Hollins said. "He came out on fire against Illinois and unfortunately picked up two fouls. Who knows? He could have had a 30-point night if he had played the rest of the night. It goes back to us trusting in one another ... That confidence, he exudes it, because we keep on giving it to him.

Hollins' rediscovery has taken place at a crucial time.

For the 11th-seed Gophers to have a chance at knocking off No. 6 UCLA for their first NCAA tournament win in 16 years, it will likely take concentrated production from both Austin and Andre Hollins. If the Gophers can institute a valued outside presence, it could go a long ways in freeing up forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams to attack UCLA inside.

The needed, though brief, reversal in production Hollins has displayed has injected a fresh layer of positivity into the Gophers, and their preparation for their showdown with coach Ben Howland's Bruins.

"He's really come out of his (shell) and really shot the ball well in the last few games and in practice," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "That's one of the reasons I'm excited and encouraged going into the tournament."

With Hollins appearing close to true form, Smith has put the call out to Coleman, who has remained in the starting lineup despite obvious shooting inconsistencies, and reserves Julian Welch and Maverick Ahanmisi, demanding increased effectiveness from his corps of guards.

"We're getting better perimeter play, better shooting. I need somebody else to step up now," Smith said.

Nate Sandell is a contributor to 1500ESPN.com.
Email Nate | @nsandell
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