MADISON, WIS. – In a different setting, the Gophers resembled nothing of the team that soundly dispensed with Wisconsin three weeks earlier at Williams Arena.
They had none of the grit, none of the spark and none of the defensive intensity.
But then, in unfamiliar buildings, those deficits are becoming a trend.
Instead, on Thursday, the Gophers watched a hot start at Kohl Center fade quickly into a 78-70 Badgers victory and Minnesota extended its winless streak in the Madison arena, where it hasn’t won since 2009.
Wisconsin effectively shut down the Gophers’ inside game, which has been their strength in recent games and was the key in defeating the No. 21 Badgers (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten) the first time around. Minnesota (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten) had only 20 points in the paint, including eight in the first half.
“Polar opposites,” coach Richard Pitino said of Wisconsin’s defensive changes. “They did a great job not allowing us to throw the ball into the post, where we really had our way with that at home.”
Like we’ve seen several times this season, the Gophers looked best in the final minutes, igniting a more aggressive offensive attack than they’d shown all game. With 1:18 to go, junior guard Andre Hollins — who had 11 points in the final 5 minutes, 36 seconds and finished with a game-high 22 — brought the double-digit gap within five at 70-65 on a three-pointer. Then, with 55 seconds on the clock, Malik Smith kept it there with a trey of his own.
But even with the Gophers suddenly clicking — getting baskets from a frontcourt that had struggled all game — there wasn’t enough time. The Badgers converted 11 of 12 free throws in the final 1:39 to seal the victory.
The Gophers have won only one game, at Penn State, on the road in the league schedule.
After jumping out to a 14-7 lead at the start, Minnesota trailed 35-28 at halftime, plagued by sloppiness (eight turnovers), poor defense and foul trouble. Only Daquein McNeil’s buzzer-beating three-pointer kept the Gophers within single digits.
Mo Walker, who was the major force with 18 points and nine rebounds in Minnesota’ 81-68 victory over Wisconsin at Williams Arena on Jan. 22, sat before even attempting a shot after picking up his second foul. By the end of the first half, Elliott Eliason and Joey King had also each picked up two, but Pitino kept Eliason in with the hope of getting an aggressive Walker in the second.
That never happened.
“I was hoping that we could really ride Mo in the second half, and they were just going at him offensively,” Pitino said. “The plan was to sit him and then really go at him in the second half big time. And then he came in and they just went at him and he was very scared to foul, you could tell, and they hurt him that way.”
Without the potent inside game that has fueled Minnesota in the past few games, the Gophers struggled to create offense or slow the Badgers’ perimeter attack. Senior guard Ben Brust led Wisconsin with 20 points, making all four of his three-point attempts.
“They did a good job of being active on our pick and rolls,” Andre Hollins said. “They scouted us and they made adjustments from the last game.
“Any loss is frustrating. I don’t want to pinpoint this one. You hate losing at all times. We definitely wanted to come in and get one here. We had opportunity, but we can’t hang our heads on this one.”