MINNEAPOLIS — There is a group text message that goes out regularly among Minnesota’s five seniors, encouraging each other with reminders to take full advantage of the dwindling opportunities to not only play for the Gophers but experience success together.
This week has brought as much urgency as ever.
After losing their first two Big Ten games, both on the road, the Gophers (11-4) are facing a challenging matchup at home on Tuesday against 22nd-ranked Ohio State. With another road game following, at struggling Michigan, this is a critical point in the season. Especially for DeAndre Mathieu, Andre Hollins and the rest of their teammates in their final year of eligibility.
“We try to make every day a masterpiece,” Hollins said before practice Monday. “Work hard, be the best leaders we can be, just try to do whatever we can to be successful.”
As the Mathieu-Hollins backcourt tandem fares, so go the Gophers. Never was that synergy more evident than last week, when Minnesota lost an 11-point halftime lead in a 72-68 loss at Purdue and then fell 70-58 to 11th-ranked Maryland.
Hollins shot a combined 3 of 19 from the field for nine points. He totaled only three assists and two steals, with two turnovers. Mathieu shot a combined 6 of 14 from the field for 15 points. He totaled only two assists and two steals, with nine turnovers.
Coach Richard Pitino said he wasn’t worried. Hollins had been bothered by a toe injury, but both Pitino and Hollins dismissed that as a factor in his performances against the Boilermakers and the Terrapins.
“I just think it’s you’re playing good opponents on the road, so hopefully he’ll get his confidence back here,” Pitino said.
— Andre Collins, Minn. guard
Hollins acknowledged a lapse in aggressiveness lately.
“Attack mode,” he called it. “I think I lost that a little bit. I’m getting it back in practice. That’s the biggest thing.”
Asked how he has regained that mentality after past absences, Mathieu answered for Hollins.
“I tell him to drive. Stop shooting so many jump shots,” Mathieu said, sitting next to Hollins at a podium inside Williams Arena. “He’s not listening to me right now.”
Mathieu has been guilty of the opposite. He’s been “over-penetrating,” as Pitino put it. That’s led to some of the unforced errors.
“Going back to old habits and not being very smart with my decisions,” Mathieu said.
There’s little time to waste with the Buckeyes coming to town. The Gophers lost at home last season to Michigan, Northwestern and Illinois, ultimately costing them a spot in the NCAA tournament. So here comes the first of their nine conference home games at their normally raucous home court, an edge they can’t afford to squander.
“We’ve got to take advantage of every single opportunity we have when it comes to that,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to win, ideally, all of them.”