Minnesota is 10 games into its conference season, and hardly anything has been constant.
Andre Hollins went from a slumping shooter to a do-it-all leader whom Richard Pitino calls “the heart and soul” of his team. Mo Walker and Carlos Morris dominate one game and look flummoxed in the next. Nate Mason and DeAndre Mathieu have flipped roles twice.
Mo Walker couldn’t stop thinking about his stat line at Nebraska on Jan. 20: Four points, four fouls and three turnovers.
In practice last week, coach Richard Pitino kept reminding him.
“Coach has really been on me about it. He’s been making sly comments about it, but I try not to let it get under my skin,” Walker said.
Facing the same Nebraska team Saturday, Walker quieted his coach. The redshirt senior center racked up a game-high 19 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks to power the Gophers past Nebraska 60-42.
When Bakary Konaté visited Minnesota as a recruit to watch the Gophers play Illinois last February, he was in for a surprise.
Konaté met Richard and Rick Pitino in Wichita, Kan., a few months earlier while enrolled at Sunrise Christian Academy under the assumption the father-son duo was recruiting him together — not for separate schools.
Illinois’ Malcolm Hill drove to the baseline early in the second half and cocked the ball back behind his head, preparing to dunk over Bakary Konaté.
Instead of being flushed through the rim, the ball was blocked out of bounds.
But it wasn’t Minnesota’s 6-foot-11-inch center that swatted the would-be dunk into the stands. It was Andre Hollins, a 6-foot-2-inch guard who’s widely regarded as a one-dimensional sharpshooter, who darted from the weak side for the block.
Holding sharpshooter Terran Petteway to 11 points on 4-for-12 shooting would usually be enough to beat Nebraska.
But conventional wisdom doesn’t apply to the Gophers right now.
Not when they keep losing winnable conference games by five points or fewer. Not when they shoot 31 percent from the field. Not when DeAndre Mathieu, the heart and soul of last year’s NIT championship team, keeps missing game-tying shots after improbably losing his starting spot to freshman Nate Mason.
The last few weeks have been rough for Andre Hollins.
He shot 28 percent or lower in Minnesota’s first five conference games, all of which were losses. Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff hit a game-winning shot in Hollins’ face, and the local media hinted at him being part of the Gophers’ problem.
But on Saturday, Hollins was a major piece of the solution as Minnesota (12-7, 1-5 Big Ten) topped Rutgers 89-80 for its first conference victory of the season.