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Updated: April 4th, 2014 2:56pm
Zulgad: Where was that version of Austin Hollins during Big Ten play?

Zulgad: Where was that version of Austin Hollins during Big Ten play?

by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Austin Hollins finished his collegiate career with three performances that helped the Gophers win an NIT title.

The senior guard had 32 points against Southern Miss then 17 and 19 points in victories over Florida State and Southern Methodist, respectively, at Madison Square Garden. Hollins hit eight of 12 shots and also added four steals Thursday in a 65-63 victory over SMU in the championship game.

This body of work led to Hollins being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

His play also left one wondering this: Where was this version of Austin Hollins went it really mattered?

The Gophers finished 9-11 in the Big Ten (including the conference tournament), leaving them a victory or two away from being part of the NCAA tournament field instead of the NIT.

The defeats in the regular season included a three-game losing streak against Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue and an unsightly 62-49 loss in late February to Illinois at Williams Arena.

Hollins' highest-point total in those four games was 13 in 35 minutes of a one-point loss to Northwestern. He hit five of 10 shots from the field that day.

In the other three games, Hollins had nine points (2 of 5 shooting), eight points (3 of 14) and 10 points (5 of 10) against the Cornhuskers, Boilermakers and Illini, respectively.

One of the knocks on former coach Tubby Smith was the fact that every season it seemed as if one or more of his players would take a step backward when progress was expected.

Tubby is no longer around, having been replaced by Richard Pitino, but that didn't matter when it came to Hollins. He seemed to take the step back that had become so common under Tubby.

This isn't a knock on the effort level from Hollins, so much as the fact he appeared tentative at key moments.

There were some impressive performances mixed in.

Hollins was outstanding in the Gophers' 95-89 win over Iowa in late February. He had a career-high 27 points, making eight of 10 shots from the field and four of six from three-point range.

But that success only made the up-and-down nature of Hollins' season more frustrating.

A case could be made that Hollins' performance in the NIT was a result of playing against competition that wasn't as good as it is in the Big Ten.

What's interesting is that Hollins' least two productive games in the NIT came in the Gophers' opening two wins against High Point and Saint Mary's. One would have thought that Hollins' biggest games would have come early in the tournament, not later, when the opponents were better.

He combined for 18 points and hit five of 13 shots from the field in those two and then bettered that two-game total in two of the next three games.

That was good enough to help lead the Gophers to an NIT championship. Had Hollins found that type of consistency before that stretch one has to wonder if the Gophers might instead have been playing in the NCAA tournament.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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