The Wisconsin Badgers (12-6 Big Ten, 19-10 overall) hung on to a 71-69 win over their cross border rivals, the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-11 Big Ten, 13-15 overall) to earn their sixth straight win.
After a quick start for Minnesota, Wisconsin went on an 11-0 run to take a 14-10 lead in the first half. The Badgers — led in the first by guards Brad Davison and Brevin Pritzl — did most of their damage on drives and layups as the team struggled from the three-point line, shooting just 21 percent in the first frame.
Davison, who led Wisconsin with 20 points on the night, hit a buzzer beating layup to give UW a 31-28 at the break. The Minnesota-native started off well in the second too, hitting five straight points to start the half to help the Badgers keep their advantage early.
But Minnesota went on a run in the second half. Led by forward Daniel Oturu, who had a double-double with 26 points and 12 rebounds, the Gophers mounted a 12-0 run to get back in the game.
A three by freshman guard Tre’ Williams gave UM a 57-56 lead, and the game was tight until the finish.
There were 17 (!) lead changes as the teams traded buckets, making for a nervey final minute.
Down 66-64, junior forward Aleem Ford tipped out a miss towards midcourt. After a scramble, Davison came up with it and passed it to junior guard D’Mitrik Trice. Trice found Brevin Pritzl open in the corner, and the senior hit a three pointer to put the Badgers back on top with 56 seconds left.
Head coach Greg Gard was happy with how the team found a way to win despite the struggles, and said this hustle play embodied the type of play needed to find the way to win when things weren’t going well.
“It’s not always easy or as you script it, but you have to make those types of plays. It was an effort possession,” Gard said.
But then, Oturu again hit a jumper with 47 seconds to go to take back the lead.
After a timeout from head coach Greg Gard, junior guard D’Mitrik Trice found junior forward Aleem Ford wide open on the baseline and Ford dunked it emphatically to give UW the 69-68 lead.
On that play, Gard said it was a ball screen that Trice read really well to find Ford in space. Ford said that Brevin Pritzl helped call the play, but the whole team noticed the potential advantage that ended up giving Wisconsin the lead for good.
“I was trying to tell [Trice] to try and get that look...it just worked out perfectly,” Ford said.
On the other end of the floor, junior forward Nate Reuvers and the Badgers finally got a stop on Oturu with a block, then Pritzl hit a pair of free throws to put the game on ice.
Oturu had dominated inside against Reuvers and junior forward Micah Potter, and Minnesota had scored on 17 straight possessions up until that point. Gard said Reuvers’ block and forcing Oturu into a bad shot was the best defensive play all game.
Potter gave Oturu a ton of credit in the battle down low, and said that defensive challenge will be good for the rest of the season and the postseason.
“Obviously, he’s one of the best bigs in the Big Ten for a reason,” Potter said. “Going up against him only makes you better.”
With the win, the Badgers moved into a tie for second place in the Big Ten standings with the chance to get a share of the title if results go their way and they also win out.
While Potter said he was excited at the chance of possibly winning a Big Ten title, Wisconsin is going to focus on what they have to do to get there.
“Obviously, we all know where we’re at in the standings, but at the same time, all we can do is control what we can control. We gotta win against Northwestern and win at [Indiana],” Potter said.