MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota’s Andre Hollins is fast becoming one of the best players in the Big Ten.
That’s not his end game, though, as Gophers coach Richard Pitino made a point this week of reminding him.
Hollins scored 24 points, shooting 8 for 14 from the floor, to lead Minnesota to an 84-58 victory Tuesday over Montana after Pitino challenged him to raise his level of play.
“You’re a borderline pro,” Pitino told Hollins. “Your mentality has got to be a guy who comes out every single day who comes out and is trying to be a pro. And I think he showed that tonight. His focus was great in the locker room. His focus has been great in practice. If he continues to do that, hopefully he’s going to play for a long time.”
DeAndre Mathieu added 15 points and five assists for the Gophers (2-0), who used a 14-0 surge early in the second half to make a double-digit lead even safer. Minnesota finished 11 for 25 from 3-point range, and seven different players swished at least one shot from behind the arc.
“I don’t think there’s any guy on the team that can’t shoot the ball,” Pitino said.
Including, of course, Hollins. The 6-foot-2 junior has moved to the shooting guard position with the 5-foot-9 transfer Mathieu at the point. Hollins went 3 for 7 from 3-point range and 5 for 5 from the free-throw line, the only Gophers player who didn’t miss a foul shot. He raved about playing with Mathieu.
“I get a lot of shots because the defense collapses on him. It’s fun. I think we’re a very good backcourt,” Hollins said.
In two games under Pitino, the Gophers have shot 40 percent from 3-point range (20 for 50) to 27.4 for their opponents (14 for 51). They beat Lehigh 81-62 last week.
Kareem Jamar had 18 points and six rebounds for the Grizzlies (0-1) in their season opener, and Keron DeShields and Jordan Gregory each had eight points. They play on Thursday at South Dakota State, another 2013 NCAA tournament entrant.
“We didn’t want guys to think that it was just owed to us to be good again. So we got what we asked for: We got beat up on the road,” coach Wayne Tinkle said. “The test wasn’t tonight. The test is going to be how we respond Thursday night.”
The Grizzlies were a trendy upset pick in the NCAA tournament last March as a No. 13 seed with 25 wins, but they were swatted away in the first round 81-34 by Syracuse, which reached the Final Four. The Grizzlies have five players back who started four games or more, led by the reigning Big Sky Most Valuable Player in Jamar.
The Gophers were too fast and too athletic, though, with their full-court press and aggressive half-court defense causing the Grizzlies all kinds of problems. This sequence, though an extreme example, told the story of the night:
Over a 3-minute stretch before the first media timeout, the Gophers had three steals and three 3-pointers and the Grizzlies had three turnovers and a foul.
“I think there were a lot of first-game jitters,” Jamar said.
Oto Osenieks had nine points and six rebounds, looking far more settled as the starting power forward than he ever did as a reserve under Smith. The lanky 6-foot-8 junior from Latvia shot 2 for 26 from 3-point range as a sophomore. He’s 4 for 6 this season.
“I’m really comfortable in coach Pitino’s system. He doesn’t care about missed shots. So I just shoot it with a lot of confidence,” Osenieks said.
Elliott Eliason capably patrolled the paint for Minnesota with six points, eight rebounds and a career-high five blocks. Austin Hollins added 11 points and 10 rebounds from the wing for the senior’s first career double-double, and the Gophers outrebounded the Grizzlies 31-24 with defensive rebounds. They also held a 14-5 advantage on the offensive boards.
Even the student section was in prime form. Twice in the first half, the devious group tricked the Grizzlies into to air-balling a hurried 3-pointer with a premature shot-clock countdown.
Up next for the Gophers is a road trip to Richmond on Saturday, when Pitino will learn a lot more about his new team. For now, there’s plenty to like.
“Our intensity,” Mathieu said, when asked what the team’s best asset has been so far. “We come out and hit teams in the mouth early, and basically we put ’em behind and don’t let them come back.”
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