AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Just as he did two days earlier, Andre Hollins was hitting 3-pointers from just about anywhere he got an open look.
Only this time, Minnesota was chasing a lead, not building one.
And while the No. 11-seed Golden Gophers rallied from a 21-point halftime deficit to pull within seven of third-seeded Florida, the Gators eventually pulled away for a 78-64 win Sunday in the third round of the NCAA tournament South Regional.
Hollins scored 25 points — he had 53 in Minnesota’s two tournament games — and his hot shooting in the second half dug the Gophers out of a huge hole before foul trouble sidelined him for about four minutes. Without their floor leader and scorer, Minnesota let the Gators get away and reach the tournament round of 16 for the third consecutive year.
When Hollins left the court, the Gophers (21-13) trailed by nine. By the time he returned, the Gators were up by 12 all momentum was lost.
“We couldn’t get any flow,” Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. “When your point guard is your best shooter and your best scorer, it makes it tough.”
The Gators (28-7) rode into the tournament as one of the best defensive teams in the country and backed that up in their first two games of the tournament. After thrashing Northwestern State, the Southeastern Conference regular-season champs shoved aside the Gophers of the Big Ten in a 20-minute show of muscle and offensive firepower.
Mike Rosario scored 25 points for the Gators on 8 of 12 shooting, including 6 of 9 on3-pointers.
Defensively, the Gators denied just about everything the Gophers tried in the first half. Florida tied up Gophers shooters at the perimeter, challenged layups and blocked a dunk when Casey Prather stuffed Minnesota’s muscular Trevor Mbakwe in a clear statement that Florida would be as tough as anything the Gophers faced in the Big Ten.
Offensively, it seemed like Florida shooters couldn’t miss. Rosario made four 3-pointers and Florida led by 22 with 5 minutes left in half. Minnesota gathered itself for a brief burst when Hollins knocked down consecutive 3-pointers and a steal and layup trimmed Florida’s lead to 39-23.
If the Gophers could have pulled within 10 by halftime, they might have been able to grab a lead in the second. Instead, the Gators scored nine straight points to roll into the locker room leading 48-27.
Minnesota wasn’t ready to roll over just yet.
“I knew that team would have a lot of pride,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I knew they would respond.”
Hollins made three 3-pointers in an 11-2 run that took some of the swagger out of the Gators. Minnesota kept chipping away and trimmed the Florida lead to 53-46 with 12 minutes left.
“We didn’t just hang our heads,” Hollins said. “We just had to come out blazing.”
But Hollins soon picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench. The Gophers had lost their first shooting option and by the time he returned, the Gators had built the lead back to 12 before a 7-0 run all but closed it out.
The Gophers started the season 15-1 but limped into the tournament after losing five of their last 11 games. They rebounded with an impressive win over UCLA on Friday that earned Smith his first tournament victory in six seasons at the program.
Minnesota’s disappointing finish in the regular season had led to some speculation that Smith’s job could be in danger. After the loss Sunday, Smith said he had no indication he could be fired.
Hollins said he’s excited about the Gophers’ future.
“We can do some good things next year,” Hollins said. “We’re going to be a tough team … We had a taste of what the NCAA tournament is like and we’ll have to strive to get back here.”
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