What a choke job from the Badgers. Wisconsin made Minnesota look like high schoolers for 33 straight minutes in the middle of Thursday's game. With about three minutes left, Tubby Smith FINALLY reapplied full court pressure and the wheels came off.
Then the Badgers looked like the high school team. The trademark defense that Wisconsin rediscovered in the first half melted away like strawberry jello. In the waning moments of the second half, Minnesota drove to the rim at will to dump in uncontested layup after uncontested layup.
Normally you would expect the team who rebounds well, takes care of the ball and scores more off of free throws to win, but the disparity in easy buckets by the end of the game was too much for UW to overcome. [box score]
On the other end, Bo Ryan's crew had no idea where to go for a key bucket. The referees stopped bailing them out. Were they gassed? Marcus Landry certainly did not have the legs to power in the available looks he got in the post. On numerous occasions, players like Landry, Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon failed to finish on the press break when open layups were presented to them (although I think J-Bo's was goaltended). The result was a heartbreaking 78-74 overtime loss.
Wisconsin was no better than Northwestern tonight, who also handed over a victory to a ranked opponent. So instead of continuing to blog in disbelief, I'll leave you with the story I would have written if the Badgers had held on ... you know, if Wisconsin was actually a quality team this year ...
Wisconsin's offense possessed both of those ingredients against #18 Minnesota for 33 straight minutes in the middle of Thursday night's game. As a result, the Badgers were able to turn a terrible start on its head, dominate the Golden Gophers and deny Minnesota its first win at the Kohl Center.
Oh, and one more thing: Defense
Most viewers were probably wondering what took Tubby Smith so long to go back to the full court pressure that made the first four minutes of the game pretty miserable for Wisconsin. Well, the Badgers were playing lock down defense for the remainder of the first half and continued doing a decent job on defense through much of the second half. Without being able to score, Minnesota could not speed up the game with a consistent press.
That brand of defense has been the element most absent from Wisconsin's game plan so far this year. If the Badgers can sustain that kind of defense (closing out on shooters, disrupting passing lanes and rebounding) for 40 minutes, UW will be a conference title contender once again. Defensive intensity, poise and good movement on offense are the three missing ingredients to a successful 2009 season.
Kevin Gullikson, of all people, opened up the offense for Bo's boys. Gullikson -- aka Captain America -- played a superb first half. He made spectacular entry passes to Landry and it was contagious. You had players cutting to the hole religiously and effortlessly, which led to easy buckets when the Badgers kept their eyes peeled.
I cannot believe Gullikson did not get more minutes actually. This is the first time I remember genuinely questioning how Keaton Nakivil's career will turn out with the Badgers. The sophomore forward is giving his team zero quality minutes right now.
Once again, Trevon Hughes shows how valueable he is to Wisconsin. Pop really toyed with the Gopher guards for the majority of the game. Except for some lapses when Minnesota reapplied a the late press, Hughes was virtually flawless in the second half. The transformation was remarkable.
But my fists were still clenched through the whole game -- with good reason. Minnesota was determined to make it a battle and frustrated many of the Badgers with pressure. Nothing new. With Jordan Taylor not yet trustworthy, the only reliable ballhandlers/decision-makers other than Hughes are Bohannon and Joe Krabbenhoft. Neither of them are quick enough to get separation from quicker players, which comes back to bite the Badgers in those situations.
Tim Jarmusz did not have a good game. To be honest, I question why he was in the game at the end against the full court pressure -- he's almost out there by default. His handle is not that good and he is not quick enough to get open either. One of those wide-open 3-pointers would have been nice Timmy.
On a brighter note, Wisconsin made 12-of-14 FTs over the last nine minutes of the second half to salt away the win. The Badgers finished 23-of-28 (83%) from the charity stripe -- a pleasant surprise.
Finally, there were more than enough questionable calls in this game to warrant mentioning. And for the most part, I thought Wisconsin got the better end of the deal (non-Badger fans are toasting their brethren right now). And Ed Hightower wasn't even involved ... just his running mate Ted Hillary.
The calls/non-calls included:
- Paul Carter's goaltending on J-Bo's shot
- Hughes' fourth foul when he poked the ball out of Westbrook's dribble
- The whirling Westbrook drive that ended in a surprising and-1 ... I didn't see any contact there
- Damien Johnson got screwed when he cleanly blocked Pop's layup attempt in the closing minutes.
- Johnson was also called for a foul earlier when blocking Landry's jumper ... looked clean