The 14 – 1 Gophers take their 2 – 0 Big Ten record into Champagne, Illinois tonight to face the Illini. National attention continues to build as the Gophers crept from #9 to # 8 in the national polls this week. The next three games for our Maroon & Gold are against #12 Illinois, #5 Indiana and #2 Michigan, with the only home game being next Thursday against Michigan. This will be a telling stretch for whether we should consider the Gophers a legitimate Big Ten title contender or one step down in the next tier of teams.
While it’s a known factor that the Gophers need continued exceptional play from Rodney Williams, Trevor Mbakwe and Andre Hollins, one of the constant components to our winning ways has been Austin Hollins. The-other-Hollins has been a continual spark on both the defensive and offensive end this season. He did just that in the second half of the Northwestern game the other day, hitting 5 three pointers in 3 minutes. It sparked a Gophers rally that turned a close game into an 18 point blowout.
There are a lot of factors to the Gophers early success this season, but Austin Hollins has been an unsung hero doing the little things. He is leading the team in steals with two per game and has added 11 points per game as well. As Marcus Fuller of the Pioneer Press points out, Hollins was transformed when Tubby Smith benched him early last season.
“Last year, I tried to be aggressive, but I wasn’t as aggressive,” said Hollins. “That’s something I wanted to focus on. I knew I needed to get more aggressive and be stronger. I wanted to be an all-around player. It’s just confidence. It’s me going out there knowing I can do more things.”
“I came back and worked hard in practice,” he said. “I just wanted to do the best I could. In high school, I didn’t (get benched). It wasn’t really a shock. I know how coach Smith is. He demands perfection and for us to be the best we can be. He wants us to strive to play at the best of our ability.”
Added Tubby Smith: “That’s why he’s our captain, because he understands what it means to do what the coach asks you to do … and go beyond. So when he comes on the court, he’s not just leading by example. He leads in all types of ways.”
The Gophers will need to keep rolling on all cylinders tonight at Illinois, but Austin Hollins’ continued focus on the little things is propelling us to victory as much as anything else.