The start of Wednesday night’s game against No. 9-ranked Wisconsin ran the full gamut of emotions for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, as leading scorer Andre Hollins hit a jump shot to give them a 2-0 lead less than a minute in. But Hollins landed awkwardly on his left ankle, left the game and did not return, leaving the Gophers to find a way to beat another highly-ranked Big 10 team without their best player.
Led by guard Deandre Mathieu (18 points, five rebounds, three assists) and forward Mo Walker (a career-high 18 points with nine rebounds and one blocked shot), the Gophers made close to 59 percent of their shots from the floor (33-for-56; 58.9 percent) on their way to beating the Badgers 81-68. Malik Smith finished with 14 points, three assists and three rebounds after entering the game for Hollins early in the first half, and Austin Hollins had 11 points, four steals and three assists while putting an exclamation point on the victory with a dramatic drive and dunk late in the second half.
The Badgers entered the game as the conference’s top three-point shooting team, but they made just 5-for-20 from beyond the arc and just 44 percent of their shots from the floor (22-for-50) overall against the Gophers, who put together a top-notch defensive effort virtually from start to finish.
Hollins’ status for Minnesota’s next game Sunday against Nebraska is unclear right now, but regardless coach Richard Pitino has the team going in the right direction and I don’t expect a let down coming off Wednesday night’s big win. If the Gophers can continue the momentum they’ve built during a difficult stretch of their schedule, a finish in the top part of the Big Ten is not out of the question.