The Minnesota Golden Gophers were a popular pick to win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed, and they took care of business with a decisive 83-63 victory over No. 6 seed UCLA on Friday night. Andre Hollins led the way for the Gophers with 28 points (5-for-8 on three-pointers), nine rebounds and five assists, and backcourt mate Austin Hollins added 16 points (4-for-6 on three-pointers) with seven assists and four steals.
It was Minnesota’s first NCAA Tournament win in Tubby Smith’s six seasons as coach, and they will now take on No. 3 seed Florida on Sunday with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. The Gators had their own decisive victory on Friday, 79-47 over Northwestern State, as they held nation’s highest-scoring team to 15 second-half points.
The most important player for the Gophers on Sunday, if they have any hope to pull and upset over the Gators, will be senior forward Trevor Mbakwe. He had nine points and 12 rebounds against UCLA on Friday night, and he will have to be a force on both ends of the floor against the Gators’ formidable frontcourt duo of center Patric Young and forward Erik Murphy. Young and Murphy combined for 34 points and 17 rebounds against Northwestern State, and Mbakwe is the only comparable talent the Gophers have in their frontcourt. If Mbakwe gets into foul trouble early, the Gophers may struggle to stay in the game.
The backcourt matchup will also be one to watch during Sunday’s game, as Andre and Austin Hollins will go against the Gators’ capable backcourt of Kenny Boynton (12.3 points per game; second on the team) and Scottie Wilbekin (9.1 points, 4.9 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game). The starting backcourt that is most effective on both ends of the floor will help determine which team dictates the tempo, and thus likely who wins, on Sunday.
Score Prediction: Florida 77, Minnesota 68
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.