Badgers ease past Golden Gophers, 83-57
INDIANAPOLIS—Wisconsin made its point emphatically Friday night.
This is what real Badgers basketball looks like—aggressive, disciplined and devastating.
Ben Brust scored a career high 29 points, Frank Kaminsky grabbed 12 rebounds and Minnesota didn't get many good looks against a lockdown defense, a combination No. 12 Wisconsin used to pull away for an 83-57 rout in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
“The epitome of the Badger Way would be Ben and Josh (Gasser),” Nigel Hayes explained about the Badgers' new warm-up shirts, which read “The Badger Way.”
“They're always hustling, they never take plays off, as Coach (Bo) Ryan said, they put their face on the ball, grinding it out, no easy possessions for the other team. “I feel like when all of us play games together like we did today, we get the results that we got today.”
It was the largest victory margin in the first two days of this year's tourney.
The second-seeded Badgers aren't' finished yet, either. They will play No. 22 Michigan State, the No. 3 seed in Saturday's second semifinal.
Wisconsin (26-6) came to Indianapolis on a clear mission—not allowing a border-state rival to strengthen its case for one of the NCAA's precious 36 at-large bids at the Badgers' expense. They figured they did enough of that with an 81-68 loss in January, the first of this season's three meetings.
But seventh-seeded Minnesota didn't stand a chance against these Badgers.
Wisconsin shot 54.5 percent from the field, made 10 of 24 on 3-pointers, outscored the Gophers' bench 38-12 and limited Minnesota to just 32.8 percent shooting.
Brust, the only senior starter, was the leader of a pack that has won nine of its last 10. He went 8 of 15 from the field, 4 of 10 on 3s and had three steals, three rebounds and two assists before getting a well-deserved early exit.
“We just came out and some things started falling and tried to play with energy throughout the whole game,” Brust said.
And there was plenty of help, too.
Hayes, the Big Ten's Sixth Man of the Year, was 6 of 9 from the field, had 15 points and six rebounds. Freshman Bronson Koenig made all five of his shots, including four 3s, to finish with 14. All-conference forward Sam Dekker had 10 points and four rebounds.
Two more wins and a third Big Ten tourney title might even be enough to vault Wisconsin into a No. 1 seed in the 68-team field, though Ryan isn't even discussing that possibility.
“I never answer anything about seeds,” Ryan said. “Sunflower seeds I used when I played baseball, I used to chew them. That's the only seeds I know anything about.”
But the weary Golden Gophers (20-13) couldn't keep up.
Whether it was the Badgers up-tempo pace or fatigue from playing their second game in two nights and third game of the week, Minnesota was off.
DeAndre Mathieu led the way with 18 points and Joey King finished with 14. Nobody else reached double figures and only two other players made more than one basket.
“Offensively, we didn't have it tonight and they made us pay,” coach Richard Pitino said. “Just disappointed with the effort tonight, not so much effort but I think we let our offense frustrate us.”
All Minnesota can do now is wait to see if the committee thinks it did enough to get into next week's tournament.
After picking up win No. 20 on Thursday, Pitino said he was convinced the Gophers were in. He didn't sound quite as certain after Friday's debacle.
“I hope we get into the NCAA tournament, I feel like we've played one of the best schedules in the country. That's normally what they want you to do,” he said.
Last year's Big Ten runner-up wasted no time taking control.
Brust started a 14-2 first-half run with a layup, and when it ended with 9:02 to go, the Badgers led 21-9.
Minnesota climbed back within 26-22 late in the half, but the Badgers scored the last eight points to make it 34-22.
The script didn't change much in the second half.
After the Gophers scored six straight to cut the lead to eight, the Badgers went on a 14-5 spurt to extend the lead to 50-33. The Gophers never got closer than 10 the rest of the night.
“They did a good job of being aggressive and being smart with what they were doing,” Ryan said. “They made smart plays when they were in there, and Sam finished well and Bronson created some good shots for himself and knocked them down. It kind of just spreads through all of us.”