Smith takes the lead as midseason woes continue

Minnesota has lost six of eight games after a strong start to conference play.

Minnesota guard Maverick Ahanmisi attempts a basket against Wisconsin on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota guard Maverick Ahanmisi attempts a basket against Wisconsin on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Williams Arena.

Andrew Krammer

Andre Hollins is only a sophomore, but he knows when it’s time to right the ship.

Hollins and coach Tubby Smith had lunch together Wednesday to discuss the Gophers’ 2-6 record in their past eight Big Ten games.

Minnesota hosts No. 20 Wisconsin on Thursday in a rematch of the Gophers’ last-second loss to the Badgers on Jan. 26.

“We need to fix our mistakes and fix them fast,” Hollins said. “We feel like every game, we’ve been in the hunt to win.”

The point guard and his coach discussed what Smith wanted out of him and the things Hollins is seeing out on the court.

Hollins admitted Smith has tightened the leash, calling more plays than before, as the team keeps losing.

“Any coach would when you’re on a losing streak,” Hollins said. “You have to gain control.”

Last time Minnesota and Wisconsin met, the Gophers were ranked No. 12 and the Badgers were the ones reeling, trying to claw back from back-to-back losses.

This time, momentum favors Minnesota’s eastern rivals. Not only are the Gophers struggling now, but they’ve gone 3-15 in February the last three seasons.

“It’s tough to beat [Wisconsin] at their game,” Smith said, “if you can’t force the tempo or if you like running, which we do.”

The Gophers dropped out of The Associated Press top-25 rankings this week for the first time since November after losses to Illinois and Michigan State last week.

“Obviously we’re down after you lose a game at home,” Smith said. “We had chances, just haven’t made the right decisions or right calls from the bench.”

Rodney Williams said he will return from a sore left shoulder that kept him out of Sunday’s loss to Illinois.

Smith said Williams would “probably start,” but he eluded that he’d consider starting Elliott Eliason again.

Williams said his shoulder was “85 percent” close to being healthy.

Eliason started at center against Illinois, which moved Trevor Mbakwe to power forward.

The two worked well together in the post, as Eliason was second on the team in assists, the bulk of them coming to Mbakwe.

“Elliott’s a ball mover,” Smith said. “He doesn’t hold it long. He’s looking to make everybody better. He understands and accepts his role.”

Eliason helps create offense, which the Gophers have struggled to find lately.

Minnesota averages more than 70 points per game, but it has averaged about 57 during its last six games – including 44 against Wisconsin on Jan. 26.

The Badgers allow 56.5 points per game, which ranks 11th in the country.

Hollins hasn’t evaded the offensive woes — he averages 43 percent shooting this season, but he has shot 29 percent the last three games.

“Our confidence is still high,” Mbakwe said. “We still believe we’re one of the best teams in the country.”