Austin Hollins’ acrobatic dunks earn teammates’ awe

MINNEAPOLIS — Before they were teammates at Minnesota,
Andre Hollins that Austin Hollins had some serious hops.

The current Gophers guards were previously opponents in
Tennessee back in high school. During Andre’s junior year at White Station High
School in Memphis, his team faced Austin’s Germantown High School squad. Years
later, Andre Hollins still has visions of what his future teammate did against
White Station.

“They always ran this lob play for him, and they always
got it,” Andre Hollins recalls. “One time, it was at home I think my
junior year, his senior year, he got that lob play and then coming down, they
got it in transition and one of his teammates threw it off the backboard. He
caught it and dunked it.

“I always knew he had bounce.”

Andre Hollins has since had a front row seat for some of
Austin Hollins’ high-flying theatrics. Perhaps none of Austin’s dunks have been
more impressive, however, than the one he threw down against New Orleans on
Saturday.

Hollins took the ball up the court in transition and dropped
a pass back for point guard DeAndre Mathieu at the top of the 3-point arc.
Mathieu then took one dribble, stepped to the free throw line and lobbed a pass
back to a leaping Hollins.

As he slipped passed a New Orleans defender and soared
toward the rim, Hollins grabbed the pass from Mathieu with his right hand and
flushed it home to complete the highlight reel alley-oop. The dunk pushed the
Gophers’ lead to 14 points in the second half and helped fire up a rather quiet
crowd at Williams Arena.

“We never practiced that,” Hollins said after the
game. “I didn’t expect him to throw it, but when I saw it go up, I just
went up there and tried to finish.”

Hollins has done so many things well for Minnesota during
his career as a lockdown defender, a 3-point shooter and a team leader, but the
senior guard has also settled into his new role as the team’s top dunker. That
was a title previously held by the athletic Rodney Williams, who routinely made
highlight shows with his slam dunks.

Now it’s Hollins’ turn. Saturday’s alley-oop indeed made
SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that night, a distinction that a similar play
against Florida State did not warrant. In that game, Hollins was also the
recipient of a Mathieu lob pass and finished that dunk with two hands.

Feeling a bit snubbed after that play against the Seminoles,
Hollins and Mathieu made sure to add some dramatic flare to their latest
alley-oop.

“I was kind of upset the Florida State one didn’t make
it,” Mathieu said Saturday. “Hopefully since he caught that one
one-handed, it’s definitely going to make SportsCenter.”

Mathieu, a junior college transfer in his first season at
Minnesota, has seemed to establish a pretty good connection with Hollins in transition.
That was certainly evident in both the Florida State and New Orleans games, as
the 5-foot-9 Mathieu had no trouble tossing lob passes to the 6-foot-4 Hollins.

Then again, that task is nothing new for Mathieu.

“I’ve got a couple friends at home that can jump out
the gym, so I just throw it up to them and they go get it,” said Mathieu,
another Tennessee native who played his high school ball in Knoxville.
“I’m getting really good at the lob, and Austin’s making it easy. He’s
going to catch it every time. … Austin jumps out of the gym. It’s sneaky, too.
You won’t expect it, and then he just dunks all on you.”

This high-flying, fast-paced transition offense is something
relatively new in Dinkytown. Under previous head coach Tubby Smith, Minnesota didn’t
get up and down the court with this type of alacrity. Instead, the Gophers were
prone to settling into their half-court offense. That didn’t lend itself to
many alley-oop opportunities.

Now with first-year coach Richard Pitino at the helm, the
object of the Gophers’ game is to run. Pitino wants his team to turn defense
into offense, and do so in a hurry. The end result is plays like the one
Mathieu and Hollins executed on Saturday.

“When DeAndre, Andre and Austin really get aggressive
out in transition, we’re pretty good,” Pitino said. “I think we’re a
pretty good fast break team. We’ve just got to get more stops in order to get
out on the break. If you don’t get stops and you don’t rebound, then you can’t
get out on the break.”

Mathieu currently leads Minnesota in assists with 5.2 per
game, while Austin Hollins’ 13.2 points per game are second on the team. More
plays like the alley-oops they’ve been running recently will only help those
statistics.

Even among his teammates, though, Hollins’ alley-oop dunk
drew a bit of good-natured criticism as not everyone gave it a perfect 10.

“He could have brought it back a little more,”
said center Mo Walker. “I’d give it a 9.5.”

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