MINNEAPOLIS — Northwestern successfully lured ninth-ranked Minnesota into that deliberate pace the Wildcats prefer, limiting the Gophers to just 17 first-half points.
The strategy worked for a while, but the Gophers found their groove when Austin Hollins got going.
Hollins hit five 3-pointers during a 3 1/2-minute stretch in the second half, finishing with 19 points and sparking Minnesota to a 69-51 victory over Northwestern on Sunday.
"I don't even remember all of them to be honest with you," said Reggie Hearn, who led the Wildcats with 11 points. "I didn't realize he had that many. That's just embarrassing. But we'll work on that and make sure that kind of stuff doesn't happen again."
Hollins had all but two of his points during a 26-7 run that gave the Gophers a 45-25 lead. Minnesota (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) has won 10 in a row for its longest winning streak since it opened the 2008-09 season with 12 straight victories.
Dave Sobolewski had 10 points, five assists and four steals for the Wildcats (9-6, 0-2), who were outrebounded 47-20. That's the fewest rebounds by a Gophers opponent all season. Hearn returned for Northwestern after missing two games because of a sprained left ankle, but the Wildcats, missing star Drew Crawford because of season-ending shoulder surgery, couldn't keep up down the stretch.
"We did it for 20 minutes. I don't think there's any reason we couldn't do it for another 20," Hearn said. "I was guarding Hollins a couple times there. We just got confused. We were switching, things like that. Just let him get free. Those are baskets that we should be able to prevent."
Hollins hit his first four 3-pointers from almost exactly the same spot on the left wing. Then he moved to the right corner and swished one from there, too, drawing a chant of his name from the impressed crowd.
"I don't think they did anything crazy to get us out of it. We just lost our man in transition a couple times and that's what did it for them," Sobolewski said.
Northwestern hasn't won at Minnesota since coach Tubby Smith took over the Gophers for the 2007-08 season.
The Wildcats were stuck with a daunting start to the Big Ten season, with five of their first seven conference games against teams ranked this week in the top 11 of The Associated Press poll, though a lot of teams will face similar stretches this year in this top-heavy league.
In a 94-66 loss to No. 2 Michigan on Thursday, the Wildcats were lured by the Wolverines into an up-and-down, faster pace they can't play. So in this one, coach Bill Carmody made sure his team stayed with the usual deliberate offensive style that complements the tricky 1-3-1 zone defense.
The Gophers helped the Wildcats by missing their first five free throws, ending the slide in the final minute of the first half when Williams swished a pair, prompting a mock cheer from the restless crowd and pushing Minnesota's lead to 17-13.
What gives this Gophers team a true advantage over a lot of opponents is enough defense – currently the conference leader in blocks and steals – to endure a shooting slump in an ugly game. The first offensive highlight came with 14:22 remaining when Trevor Mbakwe drove into the lane and finished with a tomahawk dunk to bring the fans to their feet and put the Gophers in front 26-18. He set that up, though, by jumping in the lane and using his exceptional reach to swat a short shot by Alex Olah.
Then Hollins took over. He made two of three foul shots, and Rodney Williams cut across the lane to catch the rebound of his miss with one hand and smoothly tip the ball for a banked-in putback.
"It's a good defensive team. They are guarding, not just going for steals where maybe in the past they've done that a little bit and it opened up some things," Carmody said. "It's more substantial this year that I've seen on the tape. Tough."