Published December 04, 2012
MINNEAPOLIS – South Dakota State got a glimpse of what playing without star guard Nate Wolters is like at Minnesota.
It wasn't good.
While Wolters watched with a sprained right ankle, the 14th-ranked Gophers breezed to an 88-64 victory on Tuesday.
The lone Minnesotan on the Jackrabbits roster, Wolters participated in warm-ups, but wasn't strong enough to play.
"This was obviously going to be a big game for him because how close he is to people in Minnesota and how people look up to him," Jackrabbits coach Scott Nagy said.
"But we have to make a decision on what's best for our team in the long run, and certainly it wasn't for him to play tonight."
Determined to stop the Gophers' inside game, the Jackrabbits (6-3) instead were hurt by long-range shooting, much of it by Andre Hollins, who scored 20 of his 22 points before halftime.
"He was lighting it up, but I was thinking, 'Why aren't they guarding him?' You know he's capable of scoring," Gophers guard Joe Coleman said. "That's just bad defense by them, I guess."
Hollins swished his first six 3-point attempts and finished 8 for 9 from the field for the Gophers (9-1), who reached their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll this week in six years under coach Tubby Smith.
"We had to pick our poison," Nagy said. "We had to try to take away their inside game and hopefully they didn't shoot the ball well. They did, and that just broke it wide open."
Jordan Dykstra scored 17 points for the Jackrabbits, after Wolters ankle injury prevented him from playing in his home state for the final time.
"I just couldn't go," said Wolters, who missed a game for just the second time in his college career. "I tried to warm up and I couldn't really get any lift off it or anything like that. We decided what's best is just to sit out. It's frustrating, but that's the way it goes."
Minnesota is 16-0 against South Dakota State since the two schools first met in 1930. The Gophers play at USC on Saturday before wrapping up their nonconference schedule at home against North Dakota State and Lafayette.
They turned the ball over only 13 times, compared to 21 assists, and shot nearly 57 percent from the floor.
Not to let the guards get all the attention, Trevor Mbakwe had eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
The Gophers started the game by making 11 of their first 17 field goals and began to make this look like a dunk contest in the first half, grabbing nearly every loose ball and turning them into easy fast breaks.
Freshman Jake Bittle, who replaced Wolters in the starting lineup, had five points, seven assists and seven turnovers.
Bittle lost his dribble near midcourt when Austin Hollins and Elliott Eliason converged on him near the 5-minute mark, and Hollins took the ball the other way for an uncontested double-pump dunk to stretch Minnesota's lead to 30-18.
Nagy lowered his head and buried it in his hands as soon as Bittle lost the ball. Andre Hollins followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession, off another steal by Austin Hollins.
"I didn't care what the score was, I just didn't see us compete like I want us to compete. I told the guys about it," Nagy said. "The talk was they believed they could play well, and believed they could win but they didn't play like it. That was my frustration."
Less than 30 seconds after the intermission, Williams zipped a kick-out pass to the wing for Austin Hollins, who swished another 3-pointer to put the Gophers ahead 51-24. They took their biggest advantage of the game at 59-28 a few minutes later.
The Jackrabbits have a 21-game winning streak on their home court, but this four-hour drive from their campus in Brookings was a long way from that comfort.
After their first NCAA tournament appearance last season, they've lost by three points each at Alabama and at Hofstra, both in the closing seconds.
Without Wolters, though, they sure missed a lot. The 6-foot-3 senior, who in 2011-12 became just the fifth player in NCAA history to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game over a season, could only watch in his warm-ups.
"We knew Nate's a big part of our team but we were talking that we could try to prove something without him, and show what our team was without Nate," said Jackrabbits guard Chad White, who finished with 10 points. "We didn't do too well."
Another key perimeter player, sophomore Taevaunn Prince sat out with an injury.