GAME NOTES: The suddenly mortal Wisconsin Badgers are hoping for a reversal of fortune as they hit the road to tangle with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Big Ten Conference action on Wednesday night.
Wisconsin had enjoyed the best start in program history (16-0), and was ranked as high as No. 3 in the nation as recently as last week, but losses to unranked squads in Indiana (75-72) and Michigan (77-70) dropped the team six spots to No. 9 this week. The Badgers are 3-2 in conference, tying them with Purdue for fourth place heading into the week.
Minnesota is just behind UW in the conference standings, as it has split its first six Big Ten bouts, and currently sits at 14-5 overall. The Golden Gophers are coming off a 94-73 loss at Iowa, and they have dropped two of their last three. UM is a stellar 11-1 at home this season, with its only setback at Williams Arena coming in a 63-60 decision versus Michigan in the conference opener on Jan. 2.
Minnesota is clinging to a 95-88 lead in the long-standing relationship with Wisconsin, and a 58-53 home win in overtime last February for the Gophers stopped what had been a four-game losing streak in the series.
Despite defeats in each of its last two games, Wisconsin has been rock solid this season in logging favorable margins in scoring (+13.0), rebounding (+2.7) and turnovers (+2.1). Sam Dekker paces the unit with 13.8 ppg, and he also leads the way on the glass with 6.3 rpg. Frank Kaminsky is hot on Dekker's heels in both categories, as he averages 13.5 points and 5.9 caroms per contest. In the UW backcourt, Ben Brust (13.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and Traevon Jackson (11.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.2 apg) have been productive members of a squad that leads the Big Ten in 3-point field goal percentage (.392), while ranking second in scoring defense (62.8 ppg).
The Badgers were rather lax in their recent loss to Michigan, allowing the Wolverines to shoot 54.7 percent from the field, which included a 7-of-13 showing from 3-point range. At the same time, coach Bo Ryan's club made good on only 43.3 percent of its total shots, although it too drained seven treys. Josh Gasser was high man for the Badgers with 16 points, while Brust and Kaminsky tacked on 14 apiece, and Dekker completed a double-double by scoring 10 points and grabbing as many rebounds. It was the second straight game in which UW allowed an opponent to connect on more than half of its total shots, as Indiana turned the trick just four days prior (.516).
Minnesota has been a solid offensive team this season, putting up 75.1 ppg in hitting 43.7 percent of its field goal attempts, which includes a 34.4 percent effort from beyond the arc. The Gophers lead the league in free-throw percentage (.750), while also doing a nice job at the defensive end in coming up with a Big Ten-best 8.3 steals per outing. The team boasts a trio of double-digit scorers, led by Andre Hollins and his 16.2 ppg. Austin Hollins is next with 11.8 ppg, and he ranks second on the team in rebounding with 6.6 rpg. As for DeAndre Mathieu, he nets 11.2 ppg while serving as the team's primary playmaker with 4.4 apg.
Andre Hollins scored 20 points, and Austin Hollins tallied 13 more, but those efforts went for naught as Minnesota gave up its most points of the season in what turned out to be a 21-point loss at Iowa last Sunday. The Gophers suffered deficits in both rebounding (40-33) and points from the foul line (27-16), while committing 13 turnovers and missing 11 of their 16 3-point tries. They were also outscored in bench points by a whopping 43-18 margin.
Expect the Badgers to come out with a vengeance, as they try to make the Golden Gophers pay for their past indiscretions. The home team is certainly going to put up a fight, but Wisconsin is too good to continue on this downward spiral.
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