Gophers need senior guards Hollins, Mathieu to play better

Gophers senior guards Andre Hollins (left) and Deandre Mathieu struggled in Minnesota's first two Big Ten games this season, losses to Purdue and Maryland.

Brace Hemmelgarn/Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

MINNEAPOLIS — In Minnesota’s loss to Maryland on Saturday, guards Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu combined for as many turnovers — six — as they did points.

That’s not a good recipe for the Gophers, who are relying heavily on the senior duo this season. Mathieu — who had posted an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio earlier in the year — committed five turnovers and had just one assist and four points versus Maryland. Hollins, meanwhile, struggled from the floor and had a season-low two points on 1-of-9 shooting.

With the Ohio State Buckeyes coming to town Tuesday for Minnesota’s first Big Ten home game of the year, Minnesota will need more production out of Hollins and Mathieu.

"I think we’ll have a big say in how we do, but the other guys on the team will also have the same amount as us," Mathieu said Monday. "Guys like Mo (Walker), Nate (Mason) and Carlos (Morris), everybody’s going to have to contribute because there’s never any easy games in the Big Ten. One guy or two guys are not going to decide those games."

The Gophers are 0-2 to start Big Ten play, with road losses at Purdue and Maryland. Neither senior guard played particularly well in either of those losses. Mathieu had 11 points against Purdue but also turned the ball over four times and had only one assist. Hollins struggled from the field and finished with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting.

Second-year Gophers coach Richard Pitino is convinced there’s nothing in particular bothering either guard. Hollins has dealt with turf toe this year but says it’s not a problem anymore, and his coach also thwarted the notion that Hollins might be distracted by thinking about his future playing career.

"I think seniors go through it, ‘Where am I going to be next year?’" Pitino said of Hollins. "He played two bad games offensively, but I don’t think he’s dealing with a lot. I don’t see the weight of the world on his shoulders. I don’t feel like he’s frustrated. But it happens with seniors a lot."

And during his senior season, Mathieu is now also a father to his son Elijah, as he juggles that added role along with playing basketball and taking classes. Again, though, Pitino doesn’t see that off-the-court element as a distraction on it.

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"I’ll be honest, him going home to a child and his fiancee is a lot better than what a lot of college students do," Pitino said. "I was worried about that, especially early, because when you have a kid at home, it is brutal early. You’re not sleeping, you’re not doing anything. So I was worried over the summer. . . . That doesn’t worry me (now)."

As a team, Minnesota breezed through almost the entire non-conference portion of its schedule, save for losses to Louisville and St. John’s — both of which came away from the comforts of Williams Arena. The Gophers won eight straight games to close out the non-conference season before suffering back-to-back losses to open the Big Ten.

Before the recent skid, both senior guards were playing well. Mathieu had one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation, while Hollins was among the Gophers’ top scorers despite the toe injury. Hollins attributed his performances against Purdue and Maryland simply to bad shooting games, saying he needs to get back to his comfort level and be "in attack mode" on offense.

For Mathieu, the recent string of turnovers — nine total in his last two games — was a result of reverting to his old ways where he was a bit more erratic, he said.

"A lot of it is just forcing, going back to old, bad habits and not being very smart with my decision making," Mathieu said. "If you look at it in the non-conference, there were a lot of fast breaks and easy looks. I’m not getting as many of those opportunities to get those easy assists that I was getting."

The Gophers talked Monday about the importance of holding serve at home, something they did fairly well last season — including a win against No. 11 Ohio State. Minnesota was dominant at home during the non-conference portion of this season, too, and hopes to continue that trend Tuesday night.

If that is going to happen, Mathieu and Hollins will need to be at the forefront, leading the charge.

"We definitely have a sense of urgency in practice," Hollins said. "We’ve got to get our minds right. We can’t blow opportunities, because this is our last go-around. We try to make every day a masterpiece, just work hard, be the best leaders we can be and try to do whatever we can to have the team be successful."

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