INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—On a day where every win looked difficult in the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers (13-6 Big Ten, 26-6 overall) emphatically established themselves as a team to fear with an 83-57 drubbing of Minnesota (9-11, 20-13).
It was only fitting that Bo Ryan’s 700th career win came against a close rival while shutting them down on defense. The Gophers were able to stay within 10 for most of the game, but fell out of range as senior guard Ben Brust began to heat up.
Brust led the scoring with a career-high 29 points, breaking his 25-point mark against UNLV in his sophomore year. Brust was 8-for-15 from the field, 4-for-10 from 3-point range and a perfect 9-for-9 from the free-throw line.
“You know, he didn't force anything, so sometimes you can look at a stat sheet and say, well, a guy took a lot of shots or whatever, and the seven that he missed, he missed six threes, how many of them were forced? I didn't see any forced,” head coach Bo Ryan said.
Brust’s efficiency opened up opportunities throughout the floor for his teammates, one of whom was quite grateful.
“Ben makes my job easier,” freshman forward Nigel Hayes said. “Guys can't double. So I give credit to this superb shooter right here. He's well on his way to breaking records and everything, and I just want my children to be like him.”
After Brust, Wisconsin’s top scorers were freshmen off the bench. Guard Bronson Koenig registered 14 points in 23 minutes and was a perfect 4-for-4 from deep.
Hayes dropped 15 in 23 minutes, drawing multiple fouls. One of Minnesota’s top big men, sophomore forward Joey King, fouled out with five minutes remaining to serve as another nail in the Gophers’ coffin.
“They've learned things through trial and error,” Ryan said. “They happened to fall into place today with the shots going down, but, more importantly, on the defensive end I thought the two of them did a really good job of some things that they're still working on and learning because of the lack of possessions. Some of our guys have been through a lot more possessions than others.”
What could be most encouraging for the Badgers is that on a day where junior guards Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser were both held scoreless, the Badgers still finished with 83 points.
On the other side of the box score, it was a miserable day for Minnesota.
The Gophers’ leading scorer, junior guard Andre Hollins, was shut down for most of the game. With Gasser guarding him, Hollins recorded his first points with only 11:16 remaining in the second half. Hollins finished with eight points on 2-for-14 shooting. This comes after a down game for Hollins against Penn State yesterday, when he only scored nine points.
“Tonight was different, I think, than the last game,” Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino said. “He just wasn't making shots today. I'm going to have to go back and look and see if they were good shots or bad shots. But 2-for-14 is extremely, extremely rare for Andre Hollins.”
As a whole, the Gophers shot 19-for-58 (32.8 percent) thanks to a tremendous team defensive effort from the Badgers. Wisconsin finished with seven steals and seven blocks, the first time all year they had recorded at least seven in both stats.
While junior center Frank Kaminsky scored only six points, he more than made up for it on defense. After shots by Minnesota, Kaminsky single-handedly outrebounded the Gophers (11 defensive rebounds vs. 10 team offensive rebounds).
Kaminsky was also a presence in the lane, blocking three shots and pushing Wisconsin to finish with a 28-22 points in the paint advantage against an opponent that had recorded a 48-26 difference down low earlier in the year.
For the Badgers, a loss by Villanova to Seton Hall yesterday and Kansas to Iowa State today means a No. 1 seed could be back in play if they can win the Big Ten tournament.
The Badgers will play Michigan State in the semifinals tomorrow and with a victory, the winner of the Michigan and Ohio State game Sunday.