Badgers hope to get defensive against Gophers
Asked to reflect upon Wisconsin's loss last month at Minnesota, freshman Nigel Hayes showed once more he has a high basketball IQ and a sharp memory.
“Just how poorly we played defensively,” Hayes said.
UW's defensive execution in the 81-68 loss was abysmal, arguably the team's worst of the season.
And with UW (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten) set to host Minnesota (16-8, 5-6) at 8 p.m. today, the No. 1 topic of discussion this week has been whether Bo Ryan's team is better prepared to slow the Gophers.
The Gophers, fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 74.2 points per game, feature four players averaging double figures and four more averaging at least 6.1 points per game.
Minnesota's odd couple—center Maurice Walker, 6 feet 10 inches and 250 pounds, and guard DeAndre Mathieu, 5-9 and 165—made UW look silly in the first meeting.
Walker entered the night averaging 4.9 points per game with a college high of 11 points. He surpassed that with 12 points just 9 minutes 57 seconds into the game and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
UW center Frank Kaminsky picked up two fouls less than 3 minutes into the game and sat the rest of the half. Hayes picked up two fouls and played 13 minutes in the half. That led Ryan to use Zach Bohannon and Vitto Brown for 2 minutes apiece in the half and neither could slow Walker.
“We didn't do a good job being physical enough,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “Obviously Frank got a couple fouls and so did Nigel so it threw our rotation off a little bit.
“And he played definitely very aggressive. They imposed their will on us.”
Walker was limited to four points in the second half—all on free throws—but Mathieu responded by hitting 6 of 10 shots and scoring 13 of his 18 points as the Gophers shot 57.1% from three-point range (4 of 7) and 58.9% overall (33 of 56). Both remain season-high marks for a UW opponent.
Whereas Walker camped out near the basket and used his size and strength to score six times in the lane, Mathieu used his quickness to hit 4 of 6 shots in the lane in the second half.
“When you have good guard play you can control tempo and control a game,” Gard said, “and that's what they were able to do with Mathieu down the stretch.”
Walker was the catalyst. His 18-point performance against UW remains his No. 1 mark and sparked a stellar streak. In Minnesota's last five games, Walker is averaging 14.2 points and shooting 60% (30 of 50).
“Mo is settling in to be one of the tougher guys to guard on the block in this conference,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “He's so big and wide and has great confidence right now….
“He gives us great confidence. We're looking for him more.”
Walker did to UW what Hayes has done recently to UW foes. When Walker got the ball close to the basket with time to work, he generally either scored or was fouled.
“We have to do a better job fronting him because of his size,” said Hayes, 6-7 and 250. “He is 6-10 and about 260 and if he catches the ball and we're behind him you can pretty much hang it up. We have to do a better job making his catches tough.
“He just has a lot of mass and he knows how to use it. He seals great, so that's why we have to get around him as best we can.”
UW will need Kaminsky, 7-0 and 234, to avoid foul trouble this time.
“He (was) just bigger than everyone,” Kaminsky said, referring to the first half of the first meeting. “He had no real height going against him. You saw some plays where they defended it well. He was just taller and got over the top of people.
“He got some easy buckets and it got him going. And when any player gets confidence like that it is just going to keep piling on.”