Blog: Wrapping Up the 2011-12 Season

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"The season was one of those up-and-down seasons once again," Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said in summarizing the Golden Gophers' 2011-12 campaign.

The team wrapped up its 23-15 season last week with a loss to Stanford in the NIT Championship. Advancing to Madison Square Garden was one of the biggest "ups" in that season. But the Gophers had to go through a lot of trials to make it that far. GopherSports.com took a look back at the season--with all its ups and downs--and what it means for the team's future.
Go Gophers! Mbakwe cheering
Go Gophers!
Losing Mbakwe to an ACL tear was one of the toughest obstacles the Gophers faced this season.
Go Gophers!

THE DOWNS

*Mbakwe out: On the day when the Gophers fell to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic championship, losing their undefeated start to the season was the least of their worries. Senior forward and leading scoring Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL during the game. The Gophers had to finish out the season without his senior leadership, physicality, 14.0 points per game, and 9.1 rebounds per game.
*Not just Mbakwe: The injury bug bit several other players on the team. The Gophers' other senior, Ralph Sampson III, missed three non-conference games and the team's final seven games with injuries. Injuries to Andre Hollins and Julian Welch caused constant shuffling around at the point guard position, and prevented either of the two from getting into a flow for much of the year.
*Heartbreakers: The Gophers suffered their fair share of close losses this season, including three in overtime or double overtime. "I thought the tone was sort of set when we lost in a double-overtime game to Illinois," Smith said. "We had a chance to ice that game, and we didn't. I think that really affected our psyche and our ability to close games out."
*When it rained, it poured: That loss in the Big Ten opener started a four-game losing streak. The Gophers bounced back with three straight wins, but added a six-game slide later in the conference season.

"When we were sitting at 12-1, we thought we were well-positioned to have a successful season, but obviously we didn't, with injuries and other things...But that's no excuse. We lost a lot of close games. We played in (six) overtime games. But I was impressed with how our kids kept their composure all year long. I was very pleased with our young players, especially our freshmen and sophomores, how they developed and how they matured." -Tubby Smith

THE UPS

*Youth movement: Following Mbakwe's injury, the Gophers rattled off six straight non-conference wins without the senior forward, and without Sampson in the first two. Junior Rodney Williams transitioned almost perfectly to the 4-spot with Mbakwe out, and redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason filled in admirably for Sampson. Freshman Joe Coleman went on a hot streak in the middle of the season. When Andre Hollins recovered from an ankle injury, he and Williams tag-teamed as the team's top scoring threats and on-court leaders. Sophomore Austin Hollins also showed significant improvement from last year.
Go Gophers! Williams
Go Gophers!
Williams emerged as a team leader and major scoring threat.
Go Gophers!
*Making headlines: When the Gophers earned their first conference victory, they not only snapped a four-game losing streak, but also did so in style. They defeated No. 7/8 Indiana on its home court, earning a picture on ESPN's college basketball home page.
*Minnesota record books: The Gophers led the Big Ten in blocks for the fourth consecutive year with 186, Tubby Smith earned his 100th win at Minnesota, and Ralph Sampson III joined an elite group (1,000 points, 500 rebounds, and 150 blocks).
*Resiliency: Although the Gophers finished 6-12 in Big Ten play each of the last two seasons, this season had a different feel to it than last season. This year's team responded better to injuries, having multiple players step up at different points throughout the year. This year's team also made it one round farther in the Big Ten Tournament and earned an invitation to the NIT. They exceeded expectations there, and Williams and Andre Hollins earned all-tournament honors with their stellar play. "I'm really proud of how (the Gophers) responded in postseason play," Smith said. "I thought it was truly a team effort to get the 23 wins that we did get."

LOOKING AHEAD
"I like the guys that we have returning," Smith said. Barring any departures by non-seniors, the Gophers will bring back most of this year's roster. Williams will look to improve even more during his final year. By the end of this year, he looked more comfortable shooting jump shots, and further work on that aspect of his game during the summer could make him even more unstoppable. Andre Hollins will need to cut down on his turnovers, but he still had an impressive freshman season, and enters 2012-13 armed with all the experience he gained this year. Most of the other Gopher youngsters also showed improvement the season, and the Gophers return all five of their postseason starters, a good sign for the future.

Another good sign: Mbakwe was granted the option of a sixth year, and the Gophers have written to the NCAA about possibilities for keeping 16 players. If Mbakwe does choose to stay--an option he is currently leaning towards--the Gophers would still need to make sure that his knee is truly recovered before he is able to play. A healthy Mbakwe would give a huge boost to the Gophers in both rebounding and scoring. Maurice Walker, who also tore his ACL, should be ready to go for sure. He was participating fully in practice by the end of this season.

The possibility of players returning from injury, the team's postseason run, the emergence of several young players, and the incoming freshman class of Wally Ellenson and Charles Buggs all give Gopher fans good reason to look forward to 2012-13.
Hollins at the Line
Andre Hollins entered tonight's game with a streak of 17 consecutive made free throws, not having missed since going 2-for-3 in the NIT opener against La Salle. Following that night, he made two, eight, and seven in the next three games. He made the first of two on his first trip to the line tonight, extending the streak to 18, and then missed the second. He shot 21-24 from the line during the tournament, and finished 2011-12 with the school's best ever single-season free throw percentage, .904 (85-94). Hollins fell seven makes short of qualifying for the NCAA's leaders list.
Go Gophers! Dre Hollins FT
Go Gophers!
Hollins set a Minnesota single-season record by shooting 90.4 percent.
Go Gophers!

Stingy Stanford
After a pretty good start to the game, Minnesota went on a long drought. Julian Welch scored two points around the nine-minute mark in the first half, and that was the last field goal the Gophers made before heading to the locker room. Minnesota continued to struggle in the second half while Stanford shot 57.1 percent. The Cardinal finished with a 52.7 shooting percentage, and also became the first team since Wisconsin on February 28 to hold the Gophers (.373) below 40 percent from the field.

Lenard's Record Stands

Voshon Lenard's 99-point performance in 1993 remains the best single-tournament NIT scoring effort in school history. Rodney Williams was on pace to surpass Lenard, averaging 21.0 points per game in the NIT entering tonight's game. He started off hot tonight, scoring 10 points in the first 10 and a half minutes. But Williams struggled along with the rest of the Gophers down the stretch, and he only picked up two points in the second half before fouling out. He finished the tournament three points shy of Lenard's record.

Wrapping Up the NIT
This marks the second time Minnesota has finished as runner-up in the NIT. The Gophers fell to Virginia, 58-55, in the 1980 title game. Minnesota's all-time NIT record now stands at 22-12 (or 28-13 when vacated games are included).

Read full Stanford game preview | Recap: Gophers top Washington in OT to advance

NEW YORK - The Gopher basketball team is staying right in the middle of Times Square, but hasn't let the bright lights of New York City distract them from the task at hand: Winning Minnesota's third NIT title tonight against Stanford Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

Go Gophers! Andre Hollins
Go Gophers!
Andre Hollins is averaging 19.5 points per game in the postseason.
Go Gophers!
"We've shown a lot of heart, going on the road and winning three, then another on a neutral site," said Tubby Smith to the media Wednesday. "We've got our work cut out for us in a a very good Stanford team... I'm really proud of how [our guys] have stepped up."

If you'll be watching tonight's game (6 p.m. on ESPN with Mike Patrick, Bill Raftery and Fran Fraschilla on the call) one theme you'll undoubtedly hear will center around freshman guard Andre Hollins. The Memphis native was heavily recruited by both Stanford's Johnny Dawkins (as both the Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller and the Star Tribune's Amelia Rayno discuss today) and Minnesota.

The latter part of the season, the freshman has been Minnesota's most dynamic playmaker and "is probably our best shooter" according to Smith. He's averaging 19.5 points per game in six postseason contests, with his back-to-back 20-point efforts against Northwestern and Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament making him the first Gopher to accomplish the feat since Blake Hoffarber in December of '09 (Rodney Williams saw his streak of four straight 20-point efforts come to an end Tuesday).

"If we're now seeing the real Andre Hollins, the Gophers are going to be in fine shape at the point in 2012-13," writes ESPN 1500's Judd Zulgad. Tubby Smith agrees:

"I think he's becoming a true point guard," said Smith of Andre on Wednesday. "I think he's getting closer."

"If you get to this point you probably deserve this opportunity," continued Smith. "I think our guys have earned this opportunity to compete for a championship."

Be sure to watch the game on ESPN and follow us on Twitter at @MNGopherHoops for live updates throughout the day. Also, if you're looking for a place to watch with other Gopher fans tonight be sure to attend the official viewing party at Joe Senser's in Roseville.
#Hollinsanity
In the very arena where Knicks guard Jeremy Lin started a hot streak that led to "Linsanity," Austin and Andre Hollins continued their trend of good play that has gained the nickname "Hollinsanity." Andre carried the Gophers late in the game, including a drive for a key basket that put the Gophers up three with half a minute left in overtime.

Andre's double-digit scoring streak extended to eight games, including four 20-point games, and his NIT average is 17.8 ppg. The true freshman starting point guard also dished out five assists and did not commit a turnover until about the 12-minute mark of the second half. Austin has reached double figures in six of the last seven games, and is averaging 11.5 ppg in the NIT.
Go Gophers! Williams dunk
Go Gophers!
Williams contributed half of the Gophers' eight jams.
Go Gophers!

Dunk-O-Meter
In building a 38-26 halftime lead, the Golden Gophers took advantage of one of the most high-percentage shots in basketball: the dunk. Rodney Williams got the dunk-o-meter rolling when Andre Ingram made a perfect pass to him for an alley-oop. Williams' first three field goals were of the slam variety. Ingram added two of his own, and Austin Hollins cleaned up a missed lay-up with a dunk, bringing the first-half team tally to six. Williams ended up with half of the team's eight total dunks.

Streak Over, Record Still in Reach

Though Williams' run of 20-point games fell two points short of continuing, he still has a shot at a Gopher NIT record. Through four games, his NIT point total sits at 84. With one game left on Thursday, he has a good chance to eclipse Voshon Lenard's single-tournament mark of 99 points, set in 1993.

Holding the Huskies

In its first three NIT games, Washington averaged 82.7 points per contest. The Huskies' lowest point total was 76 in those games. Even with overtime, the Gophers still held Washington to 67 points tonight. Minnesota never trailed.

Just Five More Minutes

The Gophers have played 35 extra minutes of hoops this season. They are 3-3 in overtime or double-overtime games, with half of those coming in postseason play (including the Big Ten Tournament). Six is the largest number of overtime contests on record for any season in the Gopher media guide, surpassing the five Minnesota played in 1980-81.

If I Can Make It There...
The Gophers made it to New York, N.Y., by winning three road games. Tonight they made it to the NIT championship game by holding on against a No. 1 seed in one of basketball's most beloved venues. On Thursday, they will face third-seeded Stanford to decide who makes it back home with the championship trophy. The Gophers won titles in 1993 and 1998, the latter of which was later vacated.

Live from New York, It's Tuesday Night!

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Start spreading the news, the Gophers are live from New York! Even though it's Tuesday night and not Saturday, the Gophers are still fired up for their NIT semifinal game against the Washington Huskies (tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN2).
Go Gophers! Andre Hollins
Go Gophers!
Andre Hollins and the Gophers had shoot around at the Garden this afternoon.
Go Gophers!

Yes, it's the Big Apple, but the Gophers have been playing it pretty low key here in NYC. After arriving late Sunday night, Tubby Smith's squad did some studying yesterday morning before speaking meeting with both Minnesota and New York media. Click here for a photo gallery from Tuesday's activities.

Tubby also spoke a few words at the NIT opening luncheon at the Marriott Marquis hotel near Times Square. Watch what Tubby had to say here; he's introduced by ESPN's Fran Fraschilla, one of the TV analysts for tonight's game. (Just an FYI -- Tubby's wallet was not actually stolen, that's one of his favorite jokes!):

After a short practice at NYU yesterday afternoon (check out the photos in this gallery), the Gophers attended the official NIT opening banquet Monday night (at the prestigious Loeb Boathouse near Central Park). This morning (Tuesday), the Gophers had an hour-long shootaround at Madison Square Garden, the "World's Most Famous Arena" as it is branded. It was a pretty cool experience for the guys; check out this short video from the shoot around:



Tip-off is tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN2 -- be sure to watch and follow us on Twitter (@MNGopherHoops and @GopherAthletics) for live updates throughout the game!
Hollins Homecoming
Officially a road game on the Gophers' schedule, tonight's game probably seemed like a home game to Andre Hollins. The freshman and Memphis native played in Charles M. Murphy Athletic Center four years in a row during the state tournament. Hollins helped his team to a state title there his sophomore year, and poured in 24 points tonight for the Gophers, extending his double-digit scoring streak to seven games, including three 20-point games.

Sophomore Austin Hollins, a native of Germantown, scored 10 points in his return to Tennessee. All of Austin's points and 20 of Andre's points came in the second half to help lift the Gophers to victory.
Go Gophers! Austin Hollins
Go Gophers!
Hollins scored 10 points in his return to the state of Tennessee.
Go Gophers!

Williams Continues Torrid Pace
Who moves on and who goes home in the postseason depends on which team is hot at the time. In the NIT, no one has been hotter than Rodney Williams. The junior forward boasts a streak of four games with 20-plus points, including all three of Minnesota's NIT contests. After a career high of 24 tonight, his three-game total sits at 66 points on 68.4-percent shooting. With at least one game remaining, Williams could threaten Voshon Leonard's single-tournament school record of 99 points, set in 1993.

20/20 Vision
Tonight was the second time this season that Williams and Andre Hollins have teamed up to post 20-plus-point totals in the same game. The two both passed the 20-point mark against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.

Freshman First
Elliott Eliason has been a fixture in the starting lineup with Ralph Sampson III injured, but he had not yet scored in double figures until tonight. Eliason had a solid overall stat line: 12 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and an assist.

Madison Square Garden, Here We Come
The Gophers will take on first-seeded Washington on Tuesday, March 27. This will be the Gophers' fourth trip to the NIT semifinals during non-vacated seasons. They are 2-1 in the three previous semifinal games, going on to win a championship in 1993. They also won the title in 1998, but it was later vacated. Minnesota last appeared in the semifinals in 2003.

Tough Guys
With about 20 seconds left in the game, three Gophers went down on the court. Austin Hollins suffered a bloody nose running into a screen, Joe Coleman took an elbow to the face on a rebounding scramble, and Rodney Williams' leg cramped up after he jumped for that same rebound. Coleman fouled out on the play, and Williams was helped off the court to avoid putting pressure on the cramp. Williams did return to the game. Hollins finished the game with tissues in his nose to stop the blood. All three players seemed to be doing fine.

Scoring Early and Often
Even after an 11-0 Miami run nearly erased the Gophers' 12-0 start, the Gophers still led by a dozen points at halftime, 35-23.  The last time Minnesota led by double digits at the half was against Northwestern on Jan. 22 when they carried a 41-24 advantage into the locker room. Despite the small drought after jumping out to a 12-0 lead, the Gophers still ended up with 78 points for the game. They have surpassed the 70-point mark in four of their last five games.

On the individual level, ever since his three-point performance in the Gophers' loss to Indiana, Rodney Williams has been on a tear. He has scored in double figures each of the six games since then. Last game, 17 of his career-high 21 points came in the first half. Tonight, he scored 16 first-half points on 7-of-8 shooting. Williams ended up tying that career high with 21 points again, extending his streak of 20-point performances to three. Dan Coleman in 2007 was the last Gopher to put together such a streak.
Go Gophers! Ingram
Go Gophers!
Ingram's two dunks contributed to his career-high point total.
Go Gophers!

Career Night for Ingram    
Entering tonight's game, junior transfer Andre Ingram had averaged just 6.8 minutes per game. He played just two minutes in the Gophers' NIT opener against La Salle. But tonight, with Ralph Sampson III out and Oto Osenieks suffering a head injury during the game, Ingram played 24 minutes. He took advantage of the extra court time, playing with great energy on both ends of the court. Ingram pulled down six rebounds and scored eight points--both career highs--on 3-of-3 shooting, including two dunks, to lead the Gopher bench.

Only Eight Remain
With tonight's win, the Gophers advanced to the NIT quarterfinals for the first time since 2003. The Gophers went on to lose the third place game that year. They lost in the second round in 2006, and the first in 2008. Minnesota will travel to Murfreesboro, Tenn., to face Middle Tennessee on Wednesday.

One Streak Ends, Another Continues
Sophomore Austin Hollins' double-digit scoring streak came to an end at four games. Meanwhile, freshman Andre Hollins extended his to six with 14 points today. The younger Hollins is averaging 17.2 points during his streak.

Smith Reaches the Century Mark

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With tonight's win over LaSalle, Tubby Smith recorded his 100th victory as head coach of the Golden Gophers. He is the eighth coach in Minnesota history to reach that milestone. Smith's win-loss record now stands at 100-67 with the Gophers, and 487-212 over his 21 seasons as a head coach. Tonight's win also secured his fourth 20-win season in five years at Minnesota.
Go Gophers! Tubby
Go Gophers!
Smith's 100th win was also his first postseason win at Minnesota.
Go Gophers!

Smith was stuck at 97 wins for a while as the Gophers went through a rough patch late in the season, but picked up No. 98 against Nebraska in the regular season finale, then No. 99 over Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.

Victory No. 100 holds more importance than simply a third digit--this was also Smith's first postseason win in his time at Minnesota. The Gophers lost in the first round of the NIT in 2008 (Smith's first year), and the first round of the NCAA Tournament in both 2009 and 2010.

"I really didn't realize it," Smith said of reaching 100. "You really don't think about that--you're just so involved in the game. I'm really happy to get this win. Whether it's the first one or the 100th, it's always good to get a win."

L.J. Cooke is the school's all-time wins leader at 250-135 over a 28-season Minnesota career that ended in 1924. Most recently before Smith, Dan Monson (1999-2006) joined the 100-win club. His Gopher record was 118-106.

Smith and the Gophers still have an opportunity to add more wins this season. They will have a second round game later this week. Congratulations to Coach Smith!
Strong First Half Finish
After trailing for much of the up-and-down first half, the Gophers went into the locker room with a 40-37 lead. Minnesota ended the half on an 8-0 run. Rodney Williams led the way with 17 points in the first.

Back-to-Back Big Games
For the first time in his career, Rodney Williams posted consecutive 20-point games. He scored an even 20 in the Gophers' loss to Michigan in the Big Ten quarterfinals, and upped that total to 21 tonight, tying a career high. He now has three 20-point games in his career, all this season.

Williams scored some of his points with his patented highlight reel dunks, but also mixed in some mid-range jumpers. The jumpshot has been a focus for him during this season as it was during the offseason, and he showed some improvement in his shooting stroke today. Williams will become even more of a scoring threat next season if he continues to work on his shot, forcing opponents to guard him on the perimeter as well as around the basket.
Go Gophers! Dre
Go Gophers!
Andre Hollins has scored in double figures in five straight games.
Go Gophers!

Gophers in the NIT

This is Minnesota's 14th appearance in the NIT. The Gophers are 19-11--including a championship in 1993--in the tournament during non-vacated seasons. With the vacated games, they are 25-12, including another title in 1998. Their last NIT appearance came in 2008, Tubby Smith's first season at Minnesota, when they lost to Maryland in the first round. Minnesota's last NIT victory came in 2006 against Wake Forest in the first round.

Hollins Hot Streak
With Trevor Mbakwe out for the season, Ralph Sampson III (the only other senior) injured, and just three juniors on the team, the Gophers have needed big contributions from their younger players. Recently, sophomore Austin Hollins and freshman Andre Hollins have been the ones to step up. Andre (13 tonight) scored in double figures the past five games, Austin (16 tonight) in the past four. This five game stretch includes the Big Ten Tournament, where Andre earned all-tournament honors by scoring 46 points in two games.

Smith Reaches the Century Mark

Tonight's win was Tubby Smith's 100th as Minnesota's head coach. He is the eighth Gopher coach to reach triple digits. This was also the 20th win of the season for the Gophers, making this the fourth season in which Smith has guided them to at least 20 wins. More information here.

Freshman Point Guards
Andre Hollins out-dueled Northwestern's Big Ten All-Freshman point guard Dave Sobolewski in yesterday's first round victory. Today he had to face the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Trey Burke. The two youngsters played virtually the whole game and led their respective teams in scoring. The two guarded each other went back and forth with key points at the end of the game.
Go Gophers! Dre
Go Gophers!
Andre Hollins led the Gophers in scoring in both Big Ten Tournament games.
Go Gophers!

In the end, Burke and his Wolverines came out on top. Burke has been sensational all year, which is why the media selected him as conference rookie of the year. In just the second Big Ten game of the year, Burke scored 27 points against the Gophers. Today, he scored 30.

Hollins played just 14 scoreless minutes in the teams' first meeting, but has come a long way since then. He showed flashes of his talent at times during the early season, and has recently emerged as a more consistent scorer and team leader. Hollins reached double figures in his last four games, including team highs of 25 and 21 points in the last two games. His recent play gives the Gophers good reason to be excited for the future.

Sound Familiar?
For the second time in two days, and the fifth time this season, the Gophers played overtime basketball. This was their first time playing back-to-back overtime contests since the 2003-04 season, and their first time since 1980-81 to play five overtime games in one season. Minnesota is the first team ever to play multiple overtime games in one Big Ten Tournament.

First Half Ups and Downs

The Gophers drew first blood with an Andre Hollins three-pointer, and they continued to build a lead from there. Michigan did not make a field goal until the 13:27 mark. The Gophers led by up to nine points in the first, but the Wolverines' switch to zone defense helped them slow down the Gopher offense. They tied the game for the first time with under two minutes left in the half. Minnesota still went into the locker room with a 23-20 lead after Austin Hollins hit a three.