Wisconsin Badgers vs Minnesota Golden Gophers Basketball Recap
Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 60
Once again, a Big Ten opponent came into Madison, Wisconsin, and played a solid, competitive game against the Wisconsin Badgers. Once again, that opponent left the Kohl Center with a close-shave loss. The more things change in Big Ten basketball, the more they stay the same.
Yes, the Minnesota Golden Gophers gave it a good run on Tuesday night in the league opener. Coach Tubby Smith’s team stepped inside the Kohl Center – a building where Wisconsin has lost just six times over the past nine seasons – and dueled with Coach Bo Ryan’s Badgers on relatively even terms. Minnesota didn’t shoot particularly well, hitting only 23 of 59 field goal attempts, but the Gophers hammered Wisconsin on the glass, 37-24 overall and 13-4 on the offensive backboard. The young men from Minneapolis also committed just 8 turnovers in what was a high-level game for late December and the start of the long conference season. On many nights, an eight-turnover effort on the road, combined with a plus-nine margin on the offensive boards, will produce a victory.
Not at the Kohl Center. Not for Minnesota. As solid as the Gophers proved to be, Wisconsin was even better in the areas that mattered.
For one thing, Wisconsin hit six more three-pointers than Minnesota (nine to three), as swingman Tim Jarmusz came off the bench to drill all three of his triples. Big man Jon Leuer (16 points) hit 2-of-5 threes, as Wisconsin’s bigs made an impact by sticking shots instead of having to rebound misses.
A second huge key was not necessarily free-throw shooting itself, but crunch-time foul shooting. Wisconsin added four foul shots in the final 12 seconds to push a four-point margin to eight, but before those window-dressing tallies, the Badgers did differentiate themselves from the Gophers at the charity stripe. Minnesota center Ralph Sampson III missed two free throws (one on two separate trips down the floor) inside the two-minute mark, enabling Wisconsin to retain a 59-58 lead instead of trailing by a 60-59 count. Given a slight bit of leverage, the Badgers’ ballsy point guard stepped into the spotlight to deliver a big blow. Jordan Taylor, who led all scorers with 22 points, sped to the basket and tossed in an improbable runner with 1:10 left. Taylor also drew a foul on Sampson and made the resulting foul shot to give Wisconsin a 62-58 edge. Sampson answered with a jumper at the 55-second mark, but when Leuer snared one of the Badgers’ few offensive boards in the final half minute, Minnesota had to foul. Leuer made two free throws to make the score 64-60 with 17 seconds left, and when the Gophers failed to score on their final few possessions, the Badgers inflated the final margin at the line. It’s not as though Minnesota got outclassed; Wisconsin simply excelled in this game’s most meaningful moments.
One more reality from this game has to be noted: While Minnesota committed only eight turnovers, Wisconsin coughed up the ball only twice. Yes, in a rugged Big Ten game with the defensive intensity you’d expect from teams coached by Tubby Smith and Bo Ryan, Wisconsin committed just two turnovers.
If you thought either one of these teams needed time to settle into the rhythms of Big Ten competition, you thought wrong. If you felt that Kohl Center was vulnerable this year, well, you might still be proven right... but it would be unwise to take your bet. Wisconsin still knows how to close the sale on its home court.