Just when it seemed that Wisconsin men’s basketball had turned a corner with the upset win Sunday at Ohio State, UW got cold yet again at home, somehow surviving a 30 percent shooting effort from the field en route to a 52-45 win over struggling Minnesota.
The first half Tuesday night can best be described as ugly. After making three of their first four shots, the Badgers (11-6 Big Ten, 22-8 overall) were just 1-for-17 from the field over the final 16:26 of the half, their only field goal in that span coming on a three-point shot by senior guard Jordan Taylor with 12:34 remaining. Neither team cracked the 25 percent mark from the field, with the two teams combining for just nine made baskets as the Gophers (5-12, 17-13) took a 23-16 lead into the locker room.
“You just have to go back to thinking of ways to score,” Taylor said. “We were trying to get more movement in the offense. I was able to get a post touch and from there it’s all about being aggressive and trying to make the play.”
To their credit, the Badgers came out strong in the second half. Finally getting a jumper by Taylor to go just over a minute and a half in, UW scored nine of the first 11 points of the half. Wisconsin was finally about to knot the game at 25 after a controversial three-point play by junior forward Mike Bruesewitz that was initially ruled a charge only to be overturned following a lengthy conference amongst the officials.
“An official can make the call and if he is not sure, he can go ask the other official,” head coach Bo Ryan said after the game. “That’s what they did.”
“I thought I got there,” Bruesewitz said. “I thought he was in the circle, that’s why I went up.”
Sparked by their good fortune, the Badgers took control of the game from there. Taylor was back to his usual self after a tough first half, finishing with a game-high 22 points on 4-of-9 shooting and 11-of-12 from the field throw line. Taylor’s 17 second-half points (out of UW’s 36) got the Minnesotan to the twenty-point mark for just the third time this season, with two of them coming against the Gophers.
On the other end it was once again freshman guard Andre Hollins giving the Badgers fits on the defensive end. After coming off the bench to score 20 against UW in Minneapolis, the Memphis, Tenn. native again led the Gophers in scoring, this time with 18 points, 13 of those in the first half alone.
“He took more shots than anyone in the game so I thought he was pretty aggressive,” Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said of Hollins. “Unfortunately he couldn’t make any of them [in the second half].”
Wisconsin was able to adjust at the half and ultimately that was enough to get them the win they needed to clinch a spot in the top four in the Big Ten standings and thus clinch a first-round bye in next weekend’s Big Ten Tournament.
“We didn’t do a good job of throwing the first blow or getting out to a good start,” Taylor said. “But we did a good job in the second half of turning things around.”
One thing that allowed the Badgers to quickly regain control of the game was their ability to finally get to the free throw line. With Minnesota committing seven fouls in the first 5:35 of the second half, Wisconsin had the benefit of being in the bonus for the majority of the backstretch. The Badgers took advantage, hitting 15-of-20 free throws in the second half en route to a comparatively explosive 36-point output.
“Getting to the free throw line was definitely huge in this game,” junior forward Ryan Evans said. “There were a lot of free throws and that’s where a lot of the points were scored.”
Due in large part to the multitude of free throws, there was never any flow to the game. Neither team seemed comfortable on the offensive end and neither team was able to pull away when they had the chance. Ultimately, Wisconsin was able to cut down on turnovers and make their free throws, the formula necessary to win in these low-scoring games Badger fans should be well accustomed to by now.
While hopes of a Big Ten title were washed away with the Badgers’ 67-66 defeat at Iowa last week, they continue to have plenty at stake with just one game remaining on their regular season schedule. With Illinois coming to town Sunday for senior day, the Badgers still have an outside shot to overtake either Michigan or Ohio State in the standings, in turn avoiding a quarterfinal matchup in the Big Ten Tournament with No. 20 Indiana down in Indianapolis.
More importantly, the Badgers have a chance to finally head into the postseason with momentum.
I hope the Badgers cab make it to the sweet sixteen. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!