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Minnesota up to the challenge, dispatches UCLA

The SportsXchange

AUSTIN, Texas -- Officially, 11-seed Minnesota opened the NCAA Tournament as the underdog against sixth-seeded UCLA.

In every other respect, though, the Gophers seemed like the favorite.

Minnesota established a double-digit lead in the first half and then answered every challenge from the Bruins in the second half to claim an 83-63 victory over UCLA Friday night in the South Regional at the Frank Erwin Center.

Gophers guard Andre Hollins hit four 3-pointers in the second half on his way to a game-high 28 points. Meanwhile, Austin Hollins filled up the stat sheet with 16 points, seven assists and four steals.

Throw in Trevor Mbakwe's nine points and 12 rebounds and it's easy to see why Minnesota (20-13) is moving on to face Florida in the round of 32 on Sunday.

The Gophers won just five of their last 16 games entering the NCAA Tournament. But it's a new season of surviving and advancing and Minnesota gave the Big Ten a sweep in its matchups with the Pac-12 in Austin.

"It's huge," Andre Hollins said. "Growing up you dream of these moments. We have more games to go. We have to raise our intensity at this part of the year and that's what we did tonight."

The loss could spell doom for UCLA coach Ben Howland as rumors that he needed to at least reach the Sweet 16 to keep his job circulated before the tournament.

Howland answered a direct question about his future with "no comment." At other times, Howland praised the Bruins (25-10) and their accomplishments this season having won the Pac-12 regular season title.

"I'm not going to let this diminish what a great season these kids provided," Howland said. "I'm really proud of the spirit of this team."

Shabazz Muhammad scored 20 for the Bruins, but UCLA couldn't slow down Minnesota long enough on the defensive end to climb back into the game in the second half.

Instead, the Gophers put the game away with a 16-5 run to establish a 19-point lead with 6:04 left.

UCLA briefly closed the gap to five points when Norman Powell hit a 3-pointer with 15:01 remaining.

But Minnesota fired back as Hollins hit 3s on back-to-back trips increase the Gophers' lead to 50-39.

"We cut it to five and then Hollins -- he played great, unbelievable -- he made two big 3s in a row," Howland said.

Minnesota used a 19-4 run to gain a 14-point lead late in the first half.

Hollins hit a pair of 3-pointers to bookend the run, including the shot that ignited the surge to give Minnesota a 17-15 lead. By the time Hollins capped the run with a 3, the Gophers had taken a 33-19 edge. Mbakwe had a put-back and two more interior baskets during the surge.

Hollins finished the first half with 11 points and five assists.

"I thought we were pretty efficient," Minnesota coach Tubby Smith said. "When you make shots, that's always a remedy for a lot of things. When we're making shots from the outside, we're pretty effective."

UCLA struggled to find its offensive rhythm playing without freshman standout Jordan Adams, who broke his foot at the end of the Bruins' Pac-12 Tournament semifinal against Arizona. The Bruins shot 27 percent from the field -- just 2 of 10 from 3-point range -- and had nine turnovers in the first half.

But the Bruins dominated the boards in the first half, out-rebounding Minnesota, 24-16. And UCLA guard Norman Powell hit a 3-pointer in the final minute of the first half to slow Minnesota's momentum going to the break, cutting the Gophers' lead to 10.

NOTES: Howland reminded media members on Thursday that legendary Bruins coach John Wooden expected a call from Minnesota when he instead got a call from UCLA and accepted its head coaching job, later turning down Minnesota to keep his word. ... Minnesota was one of two lower-seeded teams in the tournament to be favored by the MGM-Mirage line in the first round. Missouri was the other. ... Minnesota is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 and had an 11 seed for the second consecutive appearance.
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