The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers (9-3 Big Ten, 17-6 overall) triumphed 56-51 over their rival the Minnesota Golden Gophers (6-6 Big Ten, 16-7 overall) Wednesday night to win their sixth straight game and take over third place in the conference. Here are the top takeaways from tonight’s action.
Badgers exact revenge
The team’s official Twitter account “Back to the way it should be” after the final buzzer. Wisconsin fans can finally breathe a sigh of relief after a nightmarish stretch against their nemeses to the west.
Recent matchups with Minnesota have not been kind to the Wisconsin athletic program. After decades of dominance, UW has ceded some big games to the Gophers recently. The UW football team suffered a humiliating loss in late November at Camp Randall, losing Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in a decade and a half. The Gopher basketball team then beat Wisconsin Jan. 3, their first win at the Kohl Center in a decade. Wisconsin felt it was high time to get off the schneid.
Minnesota never led in the game, and a hostile crowd was frequently silenced as Wisconsin won their fourth straight at Williams Arena to earn a season split. D’Mitrik trice hit a massive triple to double Wisconsin’s lead with 1:45 to go in the game, and Minnesota (who went 1-12 from long-range) was unable to claw its way back. The Badgers will hope this sparks a new streak of victories over the Gophers across multiple sports.
First half scoring difficulties not insurmountable
Ethan Happ’s first-half performance was a microcosm of his team’s showing. He began 1-for-7 from the field, missing several easy shots around the rim. Following his lead, the Badgers shot only 28% by failing to convert a multitude of close-range chances.
And yet, unlike in the last matchup, UW never trailed in the half, taking a 24-21 lead into the break. While they were hardly efficient, the Badgers mustered more than the paltry 14 first half points in the last game. Four made three pointers and impressive fundamentals gave Wisconsin the lead. Happ had nine rebounds in the first half, and UW grabbed seven offensive boards. They only turned the ball over three times in the half, minimizing easy baskets for the Gophers.
Finally, they were called for zero personal fouls, as the referees were content to let both teams play. This likely benefited UW considering this team likely wants no part of a free-throw shooting contest. Only three shots were attempted from the charity stripe in the first, giving the Badgers a cushion heading into the break.
Free throws ice the game
With the Badgers’ offense stagnant throughout much of the game, they relied on points at the charity stripe to put the game away. Only four players (Happ, Iverson, Davison, Pritzl) attempted free throws, but the latter two drilled a combined 9-for-10 to keep the Golden Gophers at bay in the second half.
Davison went 5-for-6 from the line, tied for the second most he’s made in a game this year, during a game where he only went 2-for-10 from the field. The Badgers can get by in low-scoring games, but they’re not going to win many games with poor free throw shooting as well. They made some massive ones on Wednesday, and as they clawed their way to a close victory.
Strong defense continues
Since the Badgers disappointing home loss to Purdue, the Badgers had gone six games without allowing more than 64 points. That trend continued at Minnesota, where the Badgers allowed just 51 points and 35.1 percent shooting.
The Gophers hit just one three the whole night as the Badgers challenged the Gophers while shooting. They were forced into contested shots all night and Nate Reuvers capitalized, picking up seven blocks.Off the bench, Brevin Pritzl also provided some quality defensive possessions and finished the game with three rebounds.
After some high-scoring affairs against Purdue and Western Kentucky, Wisconsin has limited their mistakes on defense and cleaned up unnecessary fouls. With Happ on the roster, the points will come, but their defense is their recipe for success going forward.