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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wisconsin Knocked Out Of Big Ten Race

It sucks to be out of the Big Ten Conference title race. Now Wisconsin fans are left to rationalize away the team's downward trending performance because the team has exceeded preseason expectations. Small consolation. The Badgers are 3-3 in their last six games and sit in fifth place.

What sucks worse is getting blown out in the last two losses to unranked teams and losing three in a row to Minnesota. And this one was a thrashing.

Tubby Smith mulled over a twin towers starting lineup for this game, but it didn't matter who started. Minnesota's height and length was too much for No. 14 Wisconsin, starting with Ralph Sampson III. The Gophers out-rebounded the Badgers 36-20 in a game where every tipped ball, bounce and call seemed to go Minnesota's way. [box score]

Prior to tip-off, I suspected that Wisconsin needed to pounce on Minnesota early and limit its turnovers to have success at the Barn. The Gophers have lacked confidence lately and called a players only meeting earlier this week in an effort to manufacture some confidence. A fast start by UW could have really frustrated a team like that. But even though Wisconsin controlled the ball well, the Badgers couldn't sustain a 6-0 lead.

In fact, once Jon Leuer checked in, Minnesota rattled off a 14-2 run and never trailed thereafter. Leuer got some open looks but didn't quite look up to game speed. The bandaged wrist appeared to prevent him from grabbing a couple rebounds with both hands properly and he failed to convert a bunny that he normally would have dunked. It will take a few more games to get the big guy comfortable again.

Blake Hoffarber got loose for 12 of his 16 points in the first half, hitting from all angles, and also pulled down a game-high 9 boards. Nice game. Wisconsin shut him down in the second, but the end of the first half ensured that the Badgers would be playing uphill the rest of the night.

Trailing by just five with under a minute until halftime, Ryan Evans got called for a horrendous loose ball foul on a rebound he corralled fair and square with two hands above Justin Cobbs. Bo Ryan, naturally got T'd up and the Goofs hit all four gift free throws. Just like that, it's a nine-point game.

Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes combined for 37 points, including 9-of-19 3-point shooting, but the "Minnesota Baadgers" let the team down. Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer and Mike Bruesewitz shot a combined 3-of-22 from the floor. Taylor had two indefensible (and uncharacteristic) turnovers, while Bruesewitz fouled out after 20 minutes of play and four rebounds.

Rob Wilson was credited with one minute of PT in a game where UW had trouble getting to the rim and drawing fouls. Go figure.

Parting thoughts
:: Hughes was nearly invisible during the game's first 10 minutes. He really stepped up his defensive intensity in the second half, including a highlight-reel theft from Devoe Joseph that led to Pop's layup and three-point play opportunity. Where was that intensity from Hughes earlier? He needs to put together a complete game for 40 minutes ... it's been awhile.

:: Stories about Lawrence Westbrook's attitude and his odd relationship with teammates and coaches have surfaced this year. So his petty attempted dunk over Keaton Nankivil at the end of the game just cemented his status as the least likable player in the Big Ten. Westbrook appeared to be dribbling out the game's final seconds when he realized the shot clock was going to expire so he blew by Hughes and went to the goal hard. Keep in mind Westbrook had not scored a field goal all night until this point. I doubt he would have tried that garbage if the Gophers were losing. Any way, I'm just as disappointed that Nankivil didn't deliver a harder foul.

:: A throw-away line in Tom Oates' article yesterday stated that Wisconsin "reduced its turnovers to a trickle" when Taylor replaced Leuer in the starting lineup. That got me thinkin' (and fact checkin'). Wisconsin actually committed 36 turnovers in the four Big Ten games before Leuer's injury (9 TOs/g) and 70 in nine games without him (under 8 TOs/g). Tonight in his return, Wisconsin only turned the ball over five times so it wasn't a Taylor-Leuer thing.

:: Wisconsin has only one more chance for a good road win, that one being at Illinois to finish the conference slate. Without Wisconsin's two miraculous comebacks against doormats Michigan and Penn State, this team would be .500 in league play right now, theoretically having lost six out of nine games. Thank goodness for reality ...

:: The Badgers clearly struggle with tall teams, having missed on all their recent recruits at the center position. While J.P. Gavinski and Ian Markolf ride the pine indefinitely, it is most frustrating that redshirt freshman Jared Berggren has a warm seat next to them. Rumors of Berggren's off-season progress were evidently way overblown.

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