The Big Ten schedule was turning into the usual grind and this Gophers basketball team had taken on a small-hearted appearance. This was far from a first in the disappointing Tubby Smith Era.
On Thursday night, the Gophers were host to the narcolepsy-inducing Wisconsin Badgers, the ugliest No. 20-ranked team in the history of college basketball rankings.
The Gophers came out ready to adopt the Badgers' stodgy approach. It was 10-4 for the Badgers at the first TV timeout, and it was 10-4 for the Badgers at the second TV timeout.
Wisconsin started by hitting a pair of threes, and then clanked away at 1-for-11 for the remainder of the half. You almost had to shed a tear for that poor rim on the east basket in the Barn.
This Badger blacksmithing allowed the Gophers to go on an 8-0 waddle at the end of the half and cut the lead to 24-22. And from then on, everyone in the announced crowd of 14,625 knew it would remain a night of mud wrestling until a narrow winner was declared.
That turned out to be the Gophers, 58-53 in overtime. They got there by showing much more fight than had been on display during a disgusting 2-6 slide that put them closer to the bad teams in the Big Ten than the good ones.
Wisconsin was leading 47-43 when Ben Brust made a jumper with 6:11 left in regulation. This was it: exactly the type of game the Badgers always win and adds to Bo Ryan's legend as a coaching genius.
One problem. The Badgers scored on two free throws, missed five shots and turned it over four times in that final 6:11. And then they missed seven shots to open overtime.
Twelve straight misses. Four turnovers. And no field goals from the time Brust scored at 6:11 until Jared Berggren's putback with 10 seconds remaining in OT. That's four free throws and no other points in 11 minutes.
If Wisconsin is No. 20, I don't want to be forced to watch No. 21.
And still, the Gophers looked to be in a bad way when Traevon Jackson got away with a world-class flop, and Wisconsin had the lead at 49-43 with 5:08 left in regulation.
Jackson is the son of former Ohio State and NBA standout Jim Jackson. He resembles his father facially and across the shoulders. As a player, it's a different story. He went 3-for-14 from the field, and his attempts at a Jordan Taylor impersonation down the stretch were hapless.
Taylor, the point guard from Benilde-St. Margaret's, had a full career of succeeding in the clutch at Wisconsin.
The Gophers needed more than Wisconsin's ineptitude to put an end to a month of drudgery -- starting with the Michigan loss in the Barn on Jan. 17.
They needed Joe Coleman, a mediocre free throw shooter, to make two free throws for a 49-49 tie with 17 seconds left. They needed Austin Hollins and helpers to force a horrendous final shot by Jackson at the end of regulation.
In overtime, the Gophers needed Andre Hollins -- the sophomore guard with the ability to be his team's dagger thrower -- to hit a three at 3:36 for the first points by either team in overtime.
That loosened up the Gophers and the home crowd. Later, Trevor Mbakwe went above traffic to secure a defensive rebound ... showing those enormously strong hands that were remembered fondly from his junior season of 2010-11.
A moment later, Mbakwe was thrown to the floor by Jackson in a tangle on the Gophers' offensive end. Trevor could have stayed to protest a no-call, but he got up and hustled to play defense.
This was mentioned to Mbakwe and the sixth-year senior said: "Things are moving too fast to complain. You can't give up a basket at the other end because you're worried about a call.
"We won this game with great defense. We hadn't been pressing teams with our defense, but we did tonight.''
Mbakwe came down with another rebound and then was fouled. He's a subpar free throw shooter, but he made two there to make it 54-49, and the Gophers held on.
They were still alive. Their hearts were back to pumping blood.
Patrick Reusse can be heard oon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • firstname.lastname@example.org
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