A day after his 21st birthday, Austin Hollins scored a career-high 20 points to lead the Gophers past American University 72-36 in Friday’s season opener at Williams Arena.
Hollins added five rebounds, five steals and shot 50 percent from the floor in what looked more like a third exhibition game for Tubby Smith’s Gophers.
“Joe [Coleman] and Austin really set the tone,” said Smith, Minnesota’s sixth-year head coach, “by getting into the passing lane, steals, pushing the ball up and down the court.”
Coleman and Hollins combined for 10 of Minnesota’s 15 steals as the Gophers used a full-court pressure defense that forced 22 American turnovers.
“Defense gives the team energy,” Hollins said. “When we get steals … running up and down the court, getting layups — our adrenaline is up.”
Sophomore point guard Andre Hollins said Minnesota’s pressure defense was a sign of things to come.
“We’re one of the more athletic teams in the Big Ten,” he said. “This’ll just help get us conditioned and ready.”
Andre Hollins said while the public may be impressed with steals and turnovers, the Gophers will build on a stat that doesn’t appear in the box score — deflections. He said the team set a record under Smith with 57 deflections Friday.
Smith said Thursday that he would sub in fewer players at a time. He did that, but he still used a high number of substitutions.
Only five active Gophers players didn’t reach double-digit minutes Friday.
But that’s all a part of the defensive strategy.
“We have depth,” forward Trevor Mbakwe said. “One of our strong points is going to be pressuring.”
Minnesota pressured American into three turnovers in the game’s first three minutes and took a 15-0 lead out of the gate.
This one was over by halftime, when the Gophers led 44-14.
American turnovers turned into easy transition buckets for Minnesota, which finished the night with a 16-2 advantage on the fast break.
The Gophers only had eight turnovers Friday after committing 31 in two exhibition games. They also held a 41-30 rebounding advantage after struggling on the glass at times during exhibition play.
Minnesota’s stingy defense held American’s Tony Wroblicky to two rebounds. The junior center had 18 boards in American’s last exhibition game.
The Gophers still struggled shooting the three-point shot, making just four of 22 shots from beyond the arc. Andre and Austin Hollins combined to shoot 1-for-13 from deep.
“It felt good to get that one,” Austin Hollins said.
Smith admitted if the game were closer, he probably wouldn’t have let his team shoot as many three-pointers.
“I’d like to see them take less and make more,” Smith said.
Minnesota hosts Toledo at Williams Arena on Monday night.
Two freshmen likely to redshirt
It seems likely Smith will redshirt both of his freshmen soon.
Wally Ellenson still has a cast on his broken left hand and is expected to be out another six weeks at least.
Freshman Charles Buggs didn’t play Friday, and Smith said he planned to sit down with Buggs and his parents Friday night to discuss redshirting him.
“We’ve prepped him for redshirting,” Smith said.