MINNEAPOLIS — When the dust had settled on Friday’s 72-36 win over American University, Austin Hollins was the first Gophers player to be ambushed by the media in Minnesota’s locker room.
And why not? The junior guard scored a career-high 20 points to help the Gophers win their regular-season opener at Williams Arena. So as Hollins answered questions about his career night, his teammates took the opportunity to snap pictures with their cell phones to document Hollins’ moment in the sun.
“It definitely feels good,” Hollins said of his 20-point effort (and perhaps of the adulation from his teammates, too). “It’s good to get the win, too.”
At halftime of Friday’s win, Hollins had single-handedly outscored the visiting Eagles, 15-14. He owed much of his first-half success to his defense, something that’s always been a staple of his game. Hollins finished with five steals, and he turned several of those into points the other way.
The Gophers’ defense as a whole was swarming from the first possession of the game, as coach Tubby Smith employed full-court pressure. Nobody employed the spirit of that defense better than Hollins, as the 6-foot-4 guard had an early steal and finished the fast break with a dunk.
“That gets him going, and it gets the team going,” Smith said. “It’s a demoralizing play when you can steal the ball and attack in transition and get a dunk. I thought it got him off on a good start.”
Hollins kept up his early scoring pace, as he had eight of the Gophers’ first 10 points of the game. He hit double-digits in scoring with a pair of free throws with 13:39 still to play in the half. Hollins finished the half with 15 points, just three shy of tying his career high.
His previous career high came in perhaps Minnesota’s biggest win of the year last season, a 77-74 road victory over then-No. 8 Indiana. His 18 points then came on 7-of-10 shooting, including 2-for-4 from the 3-point line. On Friday against American, Hollins needed 16 shots to get his 20 points and was just 1 of 7 from downtown.
He finally set a new career high with a 3-pointer that put Minnesota up, 65-32, late in the second half
“It definitely felt good to get that one,” Hollins said of his lone make from long range.
After Hollins’ 20 points, only forward Rodney Williams scored in double figures with 16. Joe Coleman and Elliott Eliason each chipped in nine, while Maverick Ahanmisi scored eight points off the bench, including two 3-pointers.
Hollins more than doubled his point production from his freshman season to his sophomore year last year. He averaged 9.2 points per game in 2011-12 and scored in double figures in 21 of his 38 games. Minnesota is hoping Hollins can continue to be a scoring threat to help out Williams and senior forward Trevor Mbakwe.
The big game Friday from Hollins was a sign of this Gophers squad’s depth. On any given night, Minnesota could have one of a handful of players lead it in scoring.
Friday night, it happened to be Hollins.
“He was carrying a lot of the energy for the whole game, and he better keep it up,” Williams said of Hollins. “That’s always a plus to be able to come out here and never going to know who’s going to lead you in scoring. That shows you how deep we are.”
Buggs could be redshirted: Freshman forward Charles Buggs was the only Gopher besides injured freshman Wally Ellenson who didn’t get on the court in Friday’s lopsided victory. Smith has gone back and forth on his plan for Buggs, the 6-foot-8 Texas native.
The fact Buggs didn’t play Friday is an indication that perhaps the Gophers will try to redshirt him this year. After the game, Smith wouldn’t commit one way or the other but indicated that a redshirt season appears likely.
“We’re prepping for a redshirt,” Smith said. “His parents are here tonight, so we’ll get a chance to talk about that tonight, about whether we’ll redshirt him or not.”