Let this sink in for a second: Minnesota’s best player, Andre Hollins, played 30 seconds on Wednesday night.
That’s not an exaggeration, that’s a stat. On Minnesota’s first possession of the game, he hit a pull-up jumper and landed on a Wisconsin defender’s foot, rolling his left ankle over badly enough that he didn’t emerge from the Minnesota locker room until late in the second half.
And it didn’t matter.
The Gophers still beat up on No. 9 Wisconsin in convincing fashion, handing the Badgers their third straight loss, 81-68.
The postgame chatter is likely going to center around both of Minnesota’s Hollinses. Andre’s ankle will be a major concern if he injured it seriously, and Austin just about took the roof off the barn when he threw down this dunk late in the second half.
But the reason that Minnesota won was their dominance in the paint. In the first half, it was thanks to not-as-big-as-he-was big man Mo Walker, who finished with season-highs of 18 points and nine boards, five of which came on the offensive end of the floor. He scored 12 straight at one point in the first half, which opened up a lead that the Gophers never rescinded.
The reason they never gave up that lead? Dre Mathieu, a diminutive point guard who finished with 18 points, five boards and three assists, the majority of which came in the final 20 minutes.
It doesn’t get much more impressive than that, dominating a top ten team on a night where you’re without your leading scorer.
At this point, Richard Pitino has to be in the discussion for Big Ten Coach of the Year, and possibly the National Coach of the Year. Obviously, much of that will depend on how well the rest of the season goes for Minnesota. They have home wins over Ohio State and Wisconsin, both of whom look completely different than they did two weeks ago, and nothing but a home win over Florida State in non-conference play.
Is that enough to have them on the right side of the bubble today?
Will it be enough in March if the Gophers can’t beat anyone on the road and don’t land anymore notable wins at home?
But whatever the case may be, it’s obvious that Richard Pitino has his boys playing hard and playing well. They’re going to be a factor in the Big Ten the rest of the season, and at this point, I would say it would be a disappointment if they didn’t find a way into the tournament.
Given the expectations this group had entering the season, that’s saying something.