MADISON - The Wisconsin Badgers hold a four-game winning streak over the Minnesota Golden Gophers that dates back to 2011, including a thrilling 45-44 win in January that came down the final seconds of the game. Close games have been the norm for the two border rivals, who will meet for the second time this season Thursday night when the Badgers travel to Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
And with the Gophers currently on a skid where they've lost six of their last eight games, another close game between the two teams seems likely. But while the Badgers have gotten the better of the Gophers over the last few games, Minnesota guard Andre Hollins has always found a way to give them headaches.
The 6-foot-1 guard from Memphis, Tenn., has stung the Badgers in each of their last three games. Hollins has scored 20, 18 and 20 points against Wisconsin dating back to his freshman season with Minnesota, and has shot 43.2 percent from the floor against the Badgers as a whole.
That's a bit better than his career mark of 40.9 percent, but Hollins has also attacked the Badgers on the perimeter. Hollins is a career 39.4 percent shooter on 3-pointers, but over the last three games he's shooting 58.8 percent from behind the arc against the Badgers. 30 of his 58 career points against Wisconsin have come on 3-pointers, giving the Badgers one more big test for their vaunted defense this season.
"[Hollins] makes big shots. He makes tough shots," Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close said Tuesday after practice. "He makes shots that are contested. He can score in a lot of different ways- he's a good 3-point shooter, he can attack, he can finish in the mid-range game. He's a handful."
The Badgers have held their opponents to just 30.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers this season, which ranks second in the Big Ten and 36th in the country. But even if they can find a way to deny Hollins from distance, that might not be enough to keep him from tallying a respectable number of points on the scoreboard.
In the two teams' second game last season the Badgers held Hollins to just 2-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers, but Hollins still scored 18 points thanks to strong free throw shooting. Hollins hit 10-of-11 shots from the line, but the Badgers still won 52-45. He's a career 84.8 percent free throw shooter, and Close said Hollins' versatility means the Badgers can't over-work to take away one part of his game or the other.
However, they did just set up a good blueprint for defending versatile guards when it mattered the most. Michigan's Trey Burke scored 19 points against the Badgers, with some coming on pull-up jumpers that are harder to defend. But they locked down on him in crunch time, and Burke scored just 2 points in the game's final 14 minutes. They're not identical players, but the Badgers will need to focus again on making shots tougher for Hollins like they did to Burke.
"You just can't relax, and you've got to do a good job of trying to make him make tough shots. And he will make some," Close said. "But Trey Burke was a good example- I think he had some tough shots, and he makes a lot of those. But in our game, he didn't shoot as high of a percentage as he normally does. That's the best you can do, and if he makes them you've just got to tip your hat to him. He's that good."
Big games from Hollins haven't doomed the Badgers over their last few matchups. But winning on the road in the Big Ten is always difficult, and forcing Minnesota's dynamic guard into a few more tough shots than he'd like would be a good start to a recipe for success.