In what was perhaps the biggest game of the season in terms of postseason implications, the Gophers fought tooth and nail against Wisconsin to notch an overtime victory that went down to the final seconds. After a solid start to the season, the Gophers ended a free fall that saw them fall out of the national top 10 to unranked oblivion where they found themselves in a familiar position: needing a win to show the country that they’re still relevant.
A loss to Wisconsin meant the Gophers would be 5-7 in the conference, losers of seven of their last nine games, and recreating the same drop into awfulness that has accompanied the last two years of Gopher basketball. A loss to Wisconsin was by no means the end of the season, but it meant that the Gophers would have to win each of the games they were supposed to win the rest of the way, which included road trips to Iowa, Purdue and Nebraska. As we all know, road trips in the Big Ten, even against inferior teams, are never gimmes. And expecting the Gophers to not slip up in four of their final six games might have been asking a lot.
Instead, Minnesota fought through more terrible shooting and inept offense to secure a victory over one of the conference’s top teams and the #20 team in the nation. In it they added another top-50 victory to their resume, as the Badgers currently have a 35 RPI, and notched their 12th victory over a top-100 team. Barring an epic collapse down the stretch, the Gophers almost assured themselves an NCAA Tournament berth and put themselves in position to secure a fairly high seed should they take care of business against the bottom of the conference.
The game wasn’t without its warts, however, and the lackadaisical Minnesota offense that we have come to see quite frequently these days was on full display at Williams Arena once again. A lot of credit has to be given to the Badgers defense, which hasn’t allowed more than 70 points in a game since November, but again, the Gophers didn’t go with what works – namely scoring in transition and getting the ball in low.
Andre Hollins saved the team with a gutty performance and looked like himself in driving to the basket and mixing it up down low. It’s good to finally see someone taking initiative in the backcourt and trying to make things happen. This opens up the court for open three-point attempts and Rodney Williams flushes. Unfortunately, the Gophers again went away from Trevor Mbakwe – something that I still cannot comprehend. He does such a great job sealing off his defender on the post, but the guards are never willing to give it up to him. I really wish that would change.
What the Gophers DID do, unlike past games, was execute fundamentals. They didn’t turn the ball over (only eight TOs), didn’t send the Badgers to the line a whole lot, and hit their free throws at a pretty good pace (75 percent). Sure, they shot poorly, but they didn’t shoot themselves in the foot like they have in recent games. Playing fundamentally sound basketball gives teams a much wider margin for error, and that showed against Wisconsin, who actually made the fundamental mistakes down the stretch.
- Thank God for Ryan Evans, the 40 percent free throw shooter. He might be my favorite Badger of all time. Missed free throws down the stretch are exactly my cup of tea.
- Joe Coleman redeemed himself with two late free throws to tie the game. Did anyone actually think those were going in? I sure didn’t.
- I was scared of Ben Brust when he hit about three threes in a row. He was broke the rest of the game, though.
- Austin Hollins is just flat-out cold these days from deep. After a 1-6 performance last night he is now 3-20 in the last three games. He’s still scoring elsewhere, but his long-range prowess is certainly not showing right now.
- The starters played a lion’s share of the minutes last night, which is how it should be. Outside of Ingram and Eliason the Gopher bench is pretty much worthless. In fact, I argue that the only people that should see the floor are the starters, Eliason, Ingram and Welch. Anything else just muddles the flow. The Badgers only used eight guys last night and their sixth man, Sam Dekker, played 22 minutes. I’d like to see a similar approach.