Andre Hollins getting back into a groove, finally

Jace Frederick

New York — Andre Hollins' Feb. 5 return to the Gophers starting lineup from his left ankle sprain after missing just two games was remarkable.

But nearly two months after his initial return to the court, his return to full form is still a work in progress.

That progression took a major stride in the Gophers 67-64 overtime victory over Florida State in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.

Hollins scored 13 points in the victory, but more importantly was how he got his points. He finally showed the explosiveness, and the confidence, to get by opposing defenders on the way to the rack, which led to free throws and layups.

"He's starting to get that speed back a little bit," Gophers head coach Richard Pitino said. "I think that injury took some speed away from him, and I think he's starting to get comfortable with it.  He was really good."

Hollins was more aggressive mentality, which was evident to junior center Mo Walker. Walker said he saw his teammate play without hesitation, just shooting available shots when he was open.

That can take time to redevelop after an ankle injury — just ask Walker. Walker, who battled an ankle injury of his own during the spring and summer of 2012, shortly after recovering from a knee injury that cost him much of the previous season, said it took him a few months before he could jump and land on his ankle without any hesistancy. 

That seems to be about where Hollins is now, or at least is close to getting to.

"I’m not holding anything back," Hollins said. "I’m not trying to restrict anything.”

Walker said recovering mentally from an ankle injury can be more difficult than recovering physically.

"Just getting over that hump and knowing you can do things that you did before you got injured, it’s a big step to take," Walker said. "I think he took that step last night and I think he’s going to look to be more aggressive in the future.”

Hollins had basically been relegated to a spot-up jump shooter for the Gophers down the stretch-run of the season, a shell of the All-Conference performer Gophers fans had grown accustomed to seeing over the last three years. He displayed shades of his former self on Tuesday night, and for Minnesota's sake, he'll need to do the same in Thursday's title game.

“With an ankle injury like mine, it takes time to get that explosiveness, get that movement, get that motion, get that jumping ability to get fouled and try to finish over bigger defenders," Hollins said. "It’s progressed lately so I’m using that to my advantage.”

Which is, in turn, an advantage for Minnesota. 

Tuesday night marked just the third time since Andre Hollins returned from his ankle injury when all three of the Gophers back court stars — Andre Hollins, Austin Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu — scored in double-figures in the same game (vs. Iowa, vs. PSU, Neutral FSU). Minnesota is 3-0 in those three contests.

"That was the first time last night where I thought DeAndre, Andre and Austin all clicked, and it was something that we had all been waiting for," Pitino said. "[When] all three of those guys contribute like that offensively like that, we are pretty hard to guard."