Badgers' late surge downs Gophers
A letdown may have been natural after the University of Wisconsin’s thrilling win at Indiana just three days earlier.
But with their Border Battle rival Minnesota hungry for a monumental upset, the No. 15 Badgers pulled themselves together when they needed it, keeping pace in the Big Ten men’s basketball race with a 65-56 win over the Golden Gophers here Saturday at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin (21-4, 11-2) remained in second place, a game behind Purdue, but not without on fight.
The Badgers manhandled Minnesota at Minneapolis on Super Bowl Sunday, thanks to a fast start—needing just 10 minutes to construct a 29-10 lead en route to a 63-47 win.
But the Gophers (15-9, 5-7), while never taking control, kept the heat on Wisconsin most of this rematch. In fact, it was far closer for more than 35 minutes than the final score would indicate.
Minnesota would even have had the halftime lead if not for UW center Brian Butch’s three-pointer with seven seconds left, which gave the Badgers a 27-26 edge.
“The ball’s in my hands. You’ve got to make a play,” said Butch, whose bank-shot three-pointer in the final seconds beat Indiana, 68-66, on Wednesday. “You want to try to put yourself in a position to do that, and you have to make plays for this team to be successful.”
Whether it was Butch’s shot or something else, the Badgers came out a different team in the second half, getting on top of the Gophers and finally looking like a team that has won 12 of the last 13 games against Minnesota.
The Gophers were game to the challenge, tying it at 45-45 with 8:44 remaining on a Lawrence McKenzie three-pointer. But a 16-3 run by the Badgers ended any shot of Minnesota’s first win in Madison since 1995.
Wisconsin was more efficient in every shooting category—field goal, three-point and free-throw percentages—in the second half than the first. Minnesota, conversely, fell off on all three marks.
The Badgers shot 44 percent on field goals overall (53 percent in the second half), while the Gophers shot 33 percent (31 percent after the break).
“We stuck to what we were doing and just had better results,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “Sometimes, that takes 40 minutes, 35 minutes, 30 minutes.
“Probably doesn’t happen in the first 10 minutes, so you have to keep grinding, and that’s exactly what type of game this was.”
Wisconsin was 17-of-21 (81 percent) on free throws the last 20 minutes. And during that 16-3 run, a Michael Flowers three-pointer was surrounded by 13 Wisconsin free throws.
“We’ve been working on free-throw-shooting in practice, where we’re not allowed to leave practice until we hit four out of five,” said guard Jason Bohannon who was 6-of-6 from the line. “We’re getting our heads into game situations, and it’s paying off.”
On the other hand, the Gophers were just 4-of-7 in foul shots in the second half.
“I think (opponents) get frustrated a little bit,” Butch said. “There’s been plenty of times I’ve been at the free-throw line, and someone says, ‘Did you pay the refs? How are you guys getting (to the line) so much?’ And that’s throughout since I’ve been here.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota coach Tubby Smith felt the impact.
“We were ready coming out of halftime … but I guess we were fouling them every time, because the whistle was blowing every time down the court.”
UW forward Marcus Landry celebrated the Badgers’ victory with a thunderous dunk that pleased the crowd with 30 seconds to go. Landry’s 12-point performance was followed closely by 11 points each from Butch, Flowers, Bohannon and guard Trevon Hughes.
“Everybody contributing in one way or another—it’s kind of fun when you have a group of guys like that,” Ryan said. “(They’re) fun to coach.”