Big Ten basketball: March implications abound as Badgers face Gophers

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, March 14, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS--DeAndre Mathieu and his Minnesota teammates are doing their best to ignore basketball reality.

The consensus among analysts before the Big Ten tournament opened was that the seventh-seeded Gophers needed to win two games to slide into the 68-team NCAA field.

After holding off 10th-seeded Penn State, 63-56, in a first-round game Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Gophers need one more victory.

And look at the team that will be waiting for Minnesota (20-12) at 5:30 p.m. today: rival Wisconsin (25-6), seeded No. 2 in the tournament.

“I know if we win out we’re fine,” Mathieu, who contributed 13 points, five assists, three steals and two blocks against Penn State, said in downplaying the importance of upsetting UW. “My only goal is to make it to the Big Ten championship game and win this tournament so there is no doubt.

“Because if you think about it you start to try not to make mistakes. I’m just going to go out there and play the game I’ve been playing all year.”

Austin Hollins scored 18 points to lead the Gophers, who led by 11 points with 3 minutes 56 seconds left but needed a 3-pointer from Andre Hollins (nine points) with 11.7 seconds left to secure the victory.

Although the Badgers were idle Thursday, they got help from Seton Hall, which upset top-seeded Villanova, 64-63, in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament.

Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com elevated UW to a No. 1 in his NCAA bracket in the wake of Villanova’s loss.

The Badgers likely will have to at least advance to the Big Ten title game to secure a No. 1 seeding when the field is announced Sunday.

That won’t be easy.

Although UW handed Minnesota a 78-70 defeat Feb. 13 in Madison, the Gophers manhandled UW in the teams’ first meeting, 81-68, on Jan. 22 in Minneapolis.

Led by center Maurice Walker (18 points, nine rebounds) and Mathieu (18 points, five rebounds and three assists), the Gophers beat up the Badgers on the inside and blew by them on the perimeter. The result: Minnesota shot 58.9 percent and had 16 assists and only seven turnovers.

In the rematch, Walker got into early foul trouble and finished with five points. Mathieu hit 3 of 10 shots and scored eight points and the Gophers had more turnovers (13) than assists (11). UW scored 13 points off the turnovers.

“We were just really careless with the ball,” Mathieu said. “We were going through a tough stretch of turning the ball over a lot. We’ve gotten better with it.

“If we don’t turn it over, we’re a really good team.”

The Gophers are also difficult to handle when they swarm on defense.

They held Penn State to 32.2 percent shooting, including 23.8 percent from 3-point range.

UW shot 44 percent overall but just 25 percent from 3-point range in the loss at Minnesota. In Madison, UW shot 40% from three-point range and 48.8 percent overall.

“We’ve really got to defend,” Austin Hollins said. “That’s what we did the first game against them. We were helping each other out. We were playing great team defense.

“We’re going to have to really have our hands active. If we go after the ball and someone drives we really have to go after it.”

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