One trophy down, two to go.
That’s at least the mindset of the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers, who fulfilled one of their preseason goals by capturing a share of the Big Ten regular-season title on Senior Day last Sunday, the program’s first conference crown in seven years.
The players celebrated the accomplishment immediately after their win over Michigan State Sunday afternoon, but with the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments quickly approaching, they now have their sights set on the road ahead.
“Anyone on the team, not just the four seniors, we all had the same goal of winning the Big Ten Championship,” redshirt senior guard Josh Gasser said. “We were hungry and worked really hard at it. It’s definitely fulfilling, but we have a few more goals.”
That road starts with a trip to Minneapolis, where the Badgers (14-2 Big Ten, 26-3 overall) will square off against rival Minnesota (6-10, 17-12) Thursday night at 6 p.m.
There’s still plenty at stake for Wisconsin, who could clinch the outright Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in next week’s conference tournament with a win over the Gophers.
In addition, the Badgers will be looking for a measure of redemption after getting embarrassed by their rival during last season’s trip to Williams Arena.
Wisconsin visited The Barn last year in late January having dropped two straight after a school-record 16-0 start to the season. Things didn’t get any better for the Badgers in that game, as Minnesota cruised to a convincing 81-68 victory and handed UW its third consecutive loss.
The defeat was one of the low points of a stretch that saw Wisconsin lose five of six, and the players haven’t forgotten about it.
“We played in Minnesota last year. They kicked our butt,” Gasser said. “We’ve got to go down there and get some revenge.”
After exceeding expectations and winning the NIT title in head coach Richard Pitino’s first year at the helm, the Gophers haven’t been able to replicate that success this season. Even though its record is underwhelming, Minnesota has remained competitive in nearly all of its games, with seven of its 10 losses in Big Ten play coming by six points or less.
“I think that Minnesota team is every bit as good as the one they had last year,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “Sometimes the ball goes in here and doesn’t go in there. This game can be crazy at times.”
The Gophers are coming off a dramatic 96-90 overtime victory against Michigan State last Thursday, which snapped a 15-game losing streak in East Lansing that dated back to 1997.
Now, after having a week to prepare for the Badgers, they’ll look to prevent their rival from coming into Minneapolis and capturing the outright Big Ten title. For that to happen, Minnesota will almost certainly need leading scorer Andre Hollins to play much better than he did in Madison a couple weeks ago.
The senior guard scored just two points on 1-of-8 shooting in the Gophers’ 63-53 loss. Minnesota can’t afford another performance that dismal from Hollins, especially if senior forward Frank Kaminsky continues his torrid pace.
Kaminsky dropped 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting in the previous meeting between these two teams, and is coming off a sensational showing against Michigan State in which he scored a season-high 31 points to help bolster his already strong case for National Player of the Year.
With a hostile environment and hungry rival waiting for them Thursday night, the Badgers know they can ill afford a slip-up with seeding for both the Big Ten and NCAA tournament still hanging in the balance.