Gophers enduring a hard time without Andre Hollins
FEB 04, 2014 6:19p ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Gophers are finding out the hard way that life without Andre Hollins is no fun.
Hollins suffered an ankle injury back on Jan. 22 in the early moments of Minnesota's game against Wisconsin. As Hollins scored on a jump shot, he landed on the foot of Badgers guard Josh Gasser. Hollins sprained his left ankle on the play and missed the remainder of the game -- a game in which Minnesota pulled the upset of visiting Wisconsin, even without Hollins.
Since then, however, it hasn't been the same in Hollins' absence. The Gophers followed up that big win with an 82-78 loss at Nebraska and went on to lose at home to Northwestern a few days later by a 55-54 final after the Gophers missed two last-second layup attempts. While there's no guarantee that Minnesota would have won either or both games if Hollins were healthy, there's little doubt that these Gophers are a different team without him.
"Andre's one of our leading scorers and one of our better players, but we can't attribute any of our losses to not having him," said senior Austin Hollins, whose 11.7 points per game are second on the team after Andre Hollin's 15.5 ppg. "It's a team sport. We've still got to go out there and play and compete."
Others have had to step up in Hollins' place as he's watched the last two games from the bench. In the scoring department, that fell to senior Malik Smith in the loss at Nebraska as Smith scored a season-high 29 points -- a total he likely wouldn't have amassed, however, were Hollins in the game. Center Mo Walker led the Gophers with 14 points against Northwestern as Minnesota's strategy shifted a bit from a guard-oriented offense with Hollins healthy to establishing more of an inside presence without him.
The loss of Hollins has forced some of Minnesota's role players to play added minutes, sometimes out of position. That's included guys like Smith and freshman guard Daquein McNeil, who played a season-high 24 minutes versus Northwestern and a combined 25 minutes against Wisconsin and Nebraska.
"I'd probably say the guy I'm most pleased with since Andre went down is DaQuein McNeil," head coach Richard Pitino said Tuesday. "Malik, he hasn't played great. He made shots versus Nebraska. But (DaQuein) has been the one guy that we've kind of thrown in there and he's been very good. His best basketball is far, far ahead of him, certainly."
Minnesota now prepares for another game without Hollins as he'll miss Wednesday's tilt at Purdue -- a team the Gophers beat earlier in the year by three, with Hollins scoring 17 points and converting 9-of-11 free throws. Since that game a month ago, the Boilermakers have stumbled and have lost four straight entering Wednesday's game.
The Gophers, meanwhile, have impressive wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State but are 3-4 in Big Ten games since that Purdue win. And of course, their last two losses have come with Hollins on the bench.
"We beat them with Andre Hollins in the lineup, and so much of what we do is a lot of taking it off the bounce," Pitino said. "While DeAndre (Mathieu) is the best at it, Andre's right there, and then maybe DaQuein McNeil's the best option. We need Andre to come back right away, hopefully."
Pitino remains optimistic that Hollins will return to the Gophers' lineup on Feb. 8 when Minnesota hosts Indiana at Williams Arena. Hollins practiced a bit with the team on Tuesday and can run forward and backward, but Pitino said he isn't doing much cutting on his injured ankle.
Even though Minnesota lost its last two games without Hollins, the Gophers believe they have the talent on the roster to compete. Wednesday in West Lafayette will be their next chance to show their depth as Hollins will once again be a spectator.
With the Big Ten still up for grabs in one of the weirder seasons in the conference's recent history, Minnesota is still in the thick of things with a 4-5 conference record. But to truly make some noise in the Big Ten down the stretch, a healthy Hollins will be a key piece to the Gophers' puzzle.
"Losing your best player is not easy, certainly, and I thought we were really moving in the right direction," Pitino said. "It's tough not having Andre. He's a major, major part of what we're doing. Now guys are kind of playing out of position. But I like where we're at. If that ball rolls in (against Northwestern), am I a better coach? Are we a better team? You've got to think big picture. You can't get too high, can't get too low."
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