Sandell: Andre Hollins thriving as Gophers' spark in the backcourt
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A chant of "Andre Hollins, Andre Hollins," from the Gophers student section at Williams Arena followed the sophomore guard as he shifted back on defense, wearing a hint of a smile after his sixth 3-pointer of the opening half Tuesday.
In the fashion of his 41-point performance against Memphis two weeks ago, Hollins had put himself solely in the spotlight.
For much of the first half of the Gophers' ninth victory of the year, an 88-64 rout of South Dakota State, the "U" offense went through Hollins. Graceful drives through the lane, amid multiple defenders, were combined with his hot-hand from 3-point territory to add up to 20 points in the first 20 minutes.
"He was lighting it up," guard Joe Coleman said. "I was thinking, 'Why aren't they guarding him.' They obviously know he's capable of scoring. That's just bad defense by them I guess."
Bad defense or not, Hollins had put himself in takeover mode. With Hollins locked in, the Gophers glided to a double-digit lead they never relinquished. Though he went on to score only two points in the second half, Hollins had set the tone -- a now common occurrence for the "U" point guard.
This is still, in a way, senior forward Rodney Williams' team. But Hollins is situated as a reliable, though still developing, standout on a currently thriving Gophers' roster.
Since becoming a fixture in the Gophers' starting lineup late in his freshman season, Hollins has scored 18 points or more in seven of his last 19 games, averaging 15.1 points in that stretch.
It didn't matter on Tuesday that Williams ended an 18-game double-figure scoring streak with only two points. Hollins provided the early outburst, and when he backed off in the second half, there were others there to propel the Gophers to their highest scoring game since notching 95 against Western Kentucky in 2010.
"There's times when I don't need to score, like in the second half," Hollins said. "My teammates came out on fire and I got the ball to them. We were passing the ball well."
After a 1-for-13 display from 3-point range in Saturday's win over North Florida, the Gophers came back aggressively with a season-high 10 threes Tuesday thanks in large part to Hollins. With South Dakota State focused in the early goings on collapsing inside, Hollins used the space he was given outside to get into a rhythm that was broken only by halftime.
The Jackrabbits, who were without star point guard and 2013 NBA Draft prospect Nate Wolters, appeared shell-shocked by Hollins' hot streak, unable to compose themselves for a rally.
"It's tough to come back from something like that, especially when you can't stop it. Andre did a great job tonight in the first half," junior guard Austin Hollins said. "I think he was the main factor for us tonight. He gave us the energy boost we needed, and I think everybody fed into that."
While Andre opened the way, Austin eventually adopted the go-to scorer role. Hollins, who had hit only three of his last 15 3-pointers in a four-game span, converted three shots from long-range en route to an also impressive 17 points. As the result of the scoring prowess of the Gophers' two lead guards, Coleman found himself open to tally 15 points of his own, along with three assists and zero turnovers.
The Gophers have a dangerous 1-2-3 combination at guard, with Andre Hollins' star capabilities, Austin Hollins' scoring touch and defense-first mindset and Coleman's tendency to chip in when needed. Headlined by Andre's team-leading 137 points, the trio has accounted for 45% of the Gophers' scoring total this season (354 of 771).
"Within the game, teams may have different mindsets throughout. They might focus in on them and it might be my chance," Coleman said. "Or they might focus in on me and it might be their chance. I think that's the brilliance of our team."
But as has been the question throughout the non-conference schedule, will those roles hold true when Big Ten play begins on Dec. 31 against Michigan State?
While the Gophers have proven they have plenty of capable options, Andre Hollins and Williams remain the key factors in determining whether or not Tubby Smith's team can continue to live up to their increasing status as one of the Big Ten's primary threats (ranked No. 14 in the latest AP poll.)
The Gophers don't need dominant games from Williams or Hollins each night, but an extended lapse from either one would sorely hamper the depth that has primed the squad for a potential run at a top spot in the conference.