MINNEAPOLIS — It was clear that Tuesday was going to be a special night for Minnesota’s Austin Hollins.
The Gophers senior came into the game against South Dakota State just 17 points shy of 1,000 for his career, certainly not an unattainable number. As he entered the locker room at halftime with a double-double already in hand, Hollins seemed all but certain to achieve the milestone.
He ultimately did in the second half, reaching 1,000 career points on a layup for two of his game-high 20 points in Minnesota’s 75-59 victory over the Jackrabbits.
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After the layup and a timeout, a message was displayed on the video board honoring Hollins for becoming the 38th player in Gophers history to reach 1,000 points. The home crowd at Williams Arena gave Hollins a standing ovation as his teammates congratulated him.
“It means a lot,” Hollins said of the achievement. “It’s my senior year. It’s been a long journey to get to this point, but it means a lot.”
Hollins said he was aware entering Tuesday’s game of just how far away he was from 1,000 points. Once he got caught up in the flow of the game, though, Hollins lost track of exactly how close he was.
As the Gophers led 36-28 at the half, much of that had to do with Hollins. He already had 11 points and a career-high 11 rebounds at the break, providing a lift to an otherwise sluggish Minnesota squad. He hit a basket to break a 21-all tie and took the ball coast to coast after an SDSU miss for a layup to extend the lead.
The 6-foot-4 Hollins was aggressive on the glass, too, especially in the first half. Four of his 11 boards before halftime came on offense, and he finished with 14 rebounds.
Tuesday’s game was a microcosm of Hollins’ improvement in that area. He came into the night averaging 6.7 rebounds per game, up more than four rebounds per game from a season ago.
“I thought he could give us better than what we got last year,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of Hollins’ rebounding ability. “He’s got long arms, he plays hard, he’s pretty physical. I did think he could give us more. We just looked at the numbers last year and said, ‘Guys, I don’t want to be unrealistic. If you average three (rebounds), go get us six. If you average six, go get us eight.'”
Hollins has seemingly done it all for Minnesota this year as a senior leader, and that was the case again Tuesday. Yet none of his teammates seemed surprised by the effort that Hollins gave in Minnesota’s ninth win of the season.
“He had a bunch of rebounds, tipping them to himself. He was high energy in the first half,” said point guard DeAndre Mathieu, who had 15 points. “It was just exciting. Austin, he’s high-energy all the time. We’re used to it now.”
The layup that pushed Hollins past 1,000 points for his career also gave him 18 points on the night. He scored once more before getting taken out by Pitino for good with 1:23 to play in the game. As Hollins exited, he received another hearty ovation from the Williams Arena crowd.
On a night when the rest of the team struggled, Hollins’ teammates appreciate his 20 points — and his milestone — even more.
“It’s always good to see one of my good friends and my teammates go through a battle,” Andre Hollins said. “Like tonight, reaching a milestone that not a lot of people have done, it was great. It was amazing.”
Added Pitino: “I don’t think Austin Hollins gets enough recognition. … He’s going to go down as a really good Gopher.”
Next up on the 1,000-point watch is Andre Hollins, who had a chance to join Austin on Tuesday in that club. But the junior guard scored just eight points against South Dakota State, leaving him six points shy of 1,000.
The Hollinses had hopes of reaching that mark together on the same night. For Andre, it will have to wait at least one more game.
“He needed 17 and I think I needed 13,” Andre Hollins said. “He’s like, ‘You’ve got to wait on me if I don’t get it.’ I was like, ‘All right, I will.’ But he ended up getting it before me. It would have been nice to get it in the same game, the same night — and especially before my birthday tomorrow. That would have been cool, but it is what is is. Congrats to Austin.”
The other Pitino visits the Barn: When Richard Pitino first took the job at Minnesota before this season, many people drew the comparison to his father, Rick, in both their appearance and their voice. So it was almost as if fans and players at Williams Arena were seeing double when the Louisville coach and Hall of Famer settled into his seat just a few rows behind the Gophers’ bench Tuesday night.
The elder Pitino had tried to come watch his son at Minnesota earlier in the year but the logistics didn’t work out. Tuesday, he finally made his first visit to Williams Arena to watch Richard coach the Gophers. And Rick Pitino seemed to blend into the crowd with his maroon and gold scarf and a University of Minnesota shirt on. He even stood and cheered along with the rest of the fans as his son’s team beat South Dakota State by a 75-59 final.
After the game, Rick Pitino spoke to his son’s players in the locker room and gave the Gophers high praise.
“He looked good in maroon and gold. It shocked me when he walked in because he had the maroon sweater and the scarf and everything,” Mathieu said. “He told us we have the ability to be a Final Four team if we just think we’re a Final Four team. If we just go out there every day and get better on defense, he feels like we’re a good team and we can make it to the Final Four.”