The Gophers lost Andre Hollins to an ankle injury in the first minute of a game with Wisconsin on Jan. 22 in Williams Arena. The absence of a junior guard who entered this season with the credentials of a star made no difference.

Once Mo Walker entered at the first TV timeout, the Badgers were overmatched. They had no answer for Walker on the inside, and they had no one to stay in front of DeAndre Mathieu on the outside.

Walker and Mathieu scored 18 points apiece and the final was 81-68. The 13-point margin was an accurate reflection of the play from the two teams on the Barn’s raised floor.

The Gophers were 4-3 in the Big Ten after that game. They would go 4-7 the rest of the way, with one notable victory – over Iowa in Minneapolis. And, the manner in which the Hawkeyes played over the last month of the schedule might even take that out of the “notable’’ category.

In contrast, Rich Pitino’s club had a minimum of three “bad’’ losses in the weeks after the Wisconsin victory: at home against Northwestern and Illinois, and on the road at Purdue.

There was also a loss at Nebraska that looked as if it was “bad’’ in late January, but did not turn out to be so.

Wisconsin was on a three-game losing streak and was 3-3 in the Big Ten when it left Williams Arena. The Badgers won at Purdue, and then followed with a terrible loss to Northwestern and another to Ohio State in Kohl Center.

At that point, you looked at Wisconsin and wondered if Bo Ryan had run out of steam at age 66. He had more talent offensively with this group than most of his teams, but a Bo Ryan team that couldn’t play defense?

That seemed unimaginable.

It was.

After falling to 4-5, the Badgers went on an eight-game winning streak. Included were victories at Michigan State, at Michigan and at Iowa. The only Big Ten loss over the final six weeks was the finale at Nebraska, on a Sunday when basketball madness overtook Lincoln for the first time since … ah, even I’m not old enough to remember.

The Gophers and Wisconsin were set to decide this winter’s best-of-three in the second round of the Big Ten tournament. This came after Pitino’s club tried fiercely to choke away a tourney opener vs. Penn State on Thursday, but escaped with some pro-higher seed officiating that should have been embarrassing even for Gopher zealots.

On Friday, Bo Ryan’s team that couldn’t play defense in Williams Arena turned the Gophers into an inept collection that shot 33 percent. The final was 83-57, and it was an accurate reflection of what the teams brought to the neutral court in Indianapolis.

When it was over, all that was left for Pitino was to go into a pout because a Wisconsin third-stringer fired a three-pointer with 22 seconds left. Very Tim Brewster-like of you, coach.

And, he now has to rely on the NCAA tournament selection committee to give into the political clout of the Big Ten when filling in the last few places in the 68-team bracket.

What Pitino can’t afford is for the committee to recognize his team has gone downhill in the two months since the Wisconsin victory … offering up more lousy basketball than competent.

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