Redskins

Austin Hollins leads No. 9 Minnesota past NW 69-51

201301061905687482596-p2.jpeg

Austin Hollins leads No. 9 Minnesota past NW 69-51

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Austin Hollins hit five 3-pointers during an impressive three-minute stretch in the second half, finishing with 19 points and sparking ninth-ranked Minnesota to a 69-51 victory over Northwestern on Sunday night.

Hollins missed his career scoring high by one, collecting 17 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.

Reggie Hearn returned for Northwestern after missing two games because of a sprained left ankle, finishing with 11 points. But the Wildcats, missing star Drew Crawford because of season-ending shoulder surgery, couldn't keep up down the stretch.

Hollins hit his first four 3-pointers from almost exactly the same spot on the left wing. After a timeout, he moved to the right corner and swished one from there, too, drawing a chant of his name from the impressed crowd.

Northwestern hasn't won at Minnesota since coach Tubby Smith took over for the 2007-08 season.

This was an important win for the Gophers, who play at No. 11 Illinois and No. 5 Indiana next week. It was the fewest points allowed by Minnesota in a Big Ten game in almost two years, since giving up 45 to Iowa on Feb. 13, 2011.

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 strategy worked for a while.

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 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 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 Williams cut across the lane to catch the rebound of his miss with one hand and smoothly tip the ball for a banked-in put-back.

Quick Links

After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

After seeing Aaron Rodgers go down in 2017, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix knows how to support a backup QB

It's a new team but the same storyline for Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in 2018.

Last year while with the Packers, Clinton-Dix was there as Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone against the Vikings in Week 6. 

Now a Redskin, the safety is coming off of a game where he and his teammates watched Alex Smith badly break his leg while facing the Texans.

So, in just more than 13 months, he's seen two franchise faces go down with long-term injuries. That means when he talks about how the 'Skins can succeed with Colt McCoy leading the way, he's speaking from experience as opposed to trying to imagine it.

"You just have to rally behind him," Clinton-Dix said Tuesday, just two days before Washington's showdown in Dallas on Thanksgiving. "Colt is a great quarterback, he's a winning quarterback. I have a lot of confidence in him. The way he approaches the game, I have a lot of confidence in that as well."

The defensive back is just the latest to compliment how McCoy prepares, something he's been doing for years now, just waiting for his next opportunity to come up. Now it's here, and Clinton-Dix wants the defense to make things as easy as possible on the passer.

"Find a way to give more," he said about what he can do to contribute from the other side of things.

Rodgers did eventually return for Green Bay, but by that time, an inexperienced Brett Hundley had slogged through a 3-6 record, and the Packers were too far out of the playoff hunt, even for Rodgers.

This time around, McCoy's veteran presence is something that's easing Clinton-Dix's mind. 

"I'm not worried about Colt," he said. "I'm excited to watch him go out and play."

Clinton-Dix was worried about McCoy at one point, though.

The defender played for Alabama from 2011-2013 but was paying attention to the signal caller when Texas squared up with the Crimson Tide in the 2010 BCS National Championship. That was a contest that McCoy had to leave early on after hurting his shoulder.

That exit affected history, according to Clinton-Dix.

"If it wasn't for him getting hurt back when he was playing against the Alabama boys, I'm pretty sure we would've never won that game."

MORE REDSKINS NEWS

Quick Links

Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

mike_rizzo.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Nats could add another catcher beyond Suzuki, but don't expect it to be J.T. Realmuto

The story of his signing was simple: Mike Rizzo came to Dan Lozano, Kurt Suzuki’s agent, early and with a direct offer. He told Lozano that Suzuki was “their guy” in this offseason’s hunt for a primary catcher. Suzuki, 35, was pleased Rizzo offered a two-year deal instead of one. His former team, the Atlanta Braves, also offered him a contract at the end of the season. Suzuki declined, hopped into free agency, and decided promptly to return to Washington.

Boom. The end. 

“[Rizzo] told my agent from day one that I’m their guy,” Suzuki said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday. “Whether I’m a guy that catches 120 games or 90 games, or whatever they want me to do, I just told them I will be ready to do whatever you want. And he said I am going to play, obviously. I just said, ‘Whatever you need me to do.’ So whether that’s 80, 90, 100, 120, it really doesn’t matter to me.”

The question is what the Nationals will need him to do. Room remains for another veteran catcher since Suzuki will reportedly average $5 million annually on his contract. That long-rumored Nationals target J.T. Realmuto could be that veteran catcher is doubtful. There is little reason to pay Suzuki and then trade a high-end prospect in a deal for Realmuto, since that trade would put Realmuto behind the plate for roughly 130 games. A $5 million backup is an ultra-expensive one, especially for a team shaving pennies. Which is why Suzuki is in line to be the starter throughout the season.

“I think at this point of my career, I got no ego. I’ve never had an ego,” Suzuki said. “It was just the point where [Rizzo] said I’m their guy, whether I’m a guy that’s going to catch 50 games or I’m a guy that’s going to catch 120 games. He made it clear that he is going to bring me in to help the team win. And that’s the bottom line.”

He will help. Nationals catchers were among the worst in the league offensively last season. Matt Wieters was injured much of the year. Pedro Severino showed he had no chance at the plate. Spencer Kieboom hit .333 in September. That run was only good enough to pull his average to .232 and his on-base percentage to .322. Not great.

Suzuki’s offense has improved the last two seasons. His OPS+ was above 100 each year in Atlanta, marking two of the three times that happened in his 12-year career. He was an All-Star the other season he reached triple digits. 

Suzuki is not an analytics buff. He didn’t change his offseason routine that focuses on exercise and clean eating via food supplied by his wife, Renee. So, what gives at the plate?

“Honestly, I have no idea, just being honest,” Suzuki said. “Obviously, I started my career off doing pretty well and then kind of hit a little slump. And then the last two years at age 33 and 34, kind of had like a renaissance I guess. And I really haven’t changed much. I go out there and I don’t really think about launch angle and all these analytical things. I go out there and I just try to do some damage.”

He did mention an interesting idea. Suzuki explained relaxing at the plate is crucial to him. Pitchers throw harder now. Much harder on average than when he arrived in the major leagues in 2007 as a 23-year old playing for Oakland. Which means he is going to let them do the work by supplying velocity. He just wants solid, not Herculean, contact. The plan has worked the last two seasons.

But how Suzuki is defensively will be in question. Baseball Savant provides catcher “pop” times, which measures the time from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the fielder’s projected receiving point at the center of the base, and Suzuki was 93rd out of 108 (Kieboom was 36th, though he played much less).  

All of which hints another veteran catcher could be coming along, the same way the Nationals opened last season with Wieters and Miguel Montero. Suzuki is the start. A coming veteran is a backup. Kieboom and Severino are the emergency plan. Realmuto is a dream lost.

MORE NATIONALS NEWS: