Rodney Williams has known Mike Bruesewitz for the better part of his basketball life, so in a moment of need, he didn’t fall short on strategies to distract.
As Bruesewitz gripped the game in his hands – outside the baseline and preparing for an inbounds pass with 22 seconds remaining – Rodney Williams started talking smack.
He needled his old friend, a St. Paul native, on whether he really thought the Austin Hollins charge that had given him the ball was a good call. He asked him – was he sure?
“The idea was definitely to get into his head,” Williams said.
His mission may have worked. Bruesewitz, who had just been reminded by the referee that he couldn’t walk with the ball, started doing just that, automatically ending the Badgers’ possession.
To his credit, Bruesewitz took all responsibility for the mental slip.
“I messed it up,” he said. “I knew I shouldn’t have moved. We had a timeout and I knew it was getting close (to a 5-second call). I tried to step and took one too many … I’ve been in that position 100 times, if not more. I’ve done it enough in practice when you can’t move. I just took one too many steps. I was trying to get a better angle to get the ball into Jared. They called it and that was the game.”
From there Joe Coleman turned a broken play into a drive to the basket, getting fouled and making his two shots to send the game to overtime.
It was a momentum shift that wouldn’t be threatened in the extra session, with Wisconsin failing to make a basket until the last ten seconds.
Afterward, it was like a cloud had lifted in the locker room, with the players all seemingly taking a collective sigh of relief.
Coach Tubby Smith – who was downright giddy at the podium afterward, wishing everyone a Happy Valentines Day – best wrapped up the Gophers’ feelings when asked by a Wisconsin reporter what a game that hurt the Badgers’ title hopes meant to the home team:
“They wanted it, but we had to have it,” Smith said.
Other notes on tonight’s 58-53 OT win:
- It wasn’t pretty, and let’s be honest – the got lucky with the Bruesewitz deal -- but given the opportunity to retake the momentum, Gophers were impressively clutch, both with the Coleman play/free throws and their quick OT dominance.
- One of the most positive takeaways from the game for the Gophers was their stingy defense down the stretch. Minnesota held the Badgers without a basket for the final 6:11 of regulation and until the final ten seconds of overtime. “We had gotten away from playing good defense,” Smith said. “I don’t know why – we’ve been working on it. It’s a combination of things … our ball pressure hadn’t been very good, it was better tonight than it had been in a while, and just the team concept of being in the right spot, being ready to help.”
- Andre Hollins took over down the stretch for the Gophers, something they vastly needed in a game where no one had really stepped up very big early on. “I’m the best shooter on the team, so the coaches wanted me to shoot, they wanted me to be a little more aggressive and take some more shots,” he said.
- Rodney Williams had his left shoulder iced after the game, explaining that he re-tweaked the injury when he was fouled with 11 minutes remaining in the game. “My arm got pulled back pretty far, but I just went out there and played, I didn’t think about it too much,” he said. Williams – who didn’t play at all in the Illinois game, originally injured the shoulder in a practice last week.
- Smith on Williams’ shoulder: “He looked like he was favoring it, he was holding his shorts. I kept asking ‘Are you alright?’ And he said he was fine and I said ‘Well, quit grabbing your shorts and play.’ But he did a good job because he is still sore. And that tells you a lot.”
- The Gophers played Ke$ha's "Die Young" in the locker room after the win. Wisconsin made headlines this week with a video of the players dancing to the song in celebration of their win over Michigan. Asked whether the team was having some fun at the expense of their rivals, Mbakwe just smiled and said "No comment."