Badgers hold off Gophers to snap their Minnesota losing streak

For another perspective go to Bucky's 5 Qtr recap

The Golden Gophers battled back from a 10 point deficit in the second half to take a brief lead in Madison but Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer were too much as they led the Badgers to an early 1-0 record in the Big Ten. This was an enjoyable game to watch between two good teams. Both teams really played to their strengths while their opponent tried to take advantage of their weaknesses. In the end it was a one possession game where the home team finished off the visitor and Wisconsin won 60-68.

Marcus Fuller accurately points out that the Gophers were clearly lacking a leader down the stretch. We'll get back to this because it may be the second most glaring deficiency this team currently has. The first is clearly our perimeter defense. With Al Nolen back in the lineup, we do a pretty good job of slowing down penetration from the perimeter but we give up wide open looks from three too often and it is really just too easy for the opposing offense. Despite our best efforts in the second half to go toe-to-toe with Wisconsin, when you allow your opponent to shoot 46% from three in the second half you are not going to win those games. If I were to make excuses, we struggle more than most when our opponent has athletic big men who can shoot. I can live with Jordan Taylor shooting 2/9 from three, that is pretty good defense. But Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil shooting 4/8 isn't good and Tim Jarmusz 3/3 is just poor defense.

And in the end we really did lack a true go-to guy down the stretch. Al Nolen tried but in the last 2:23 he was 0/3 (0/6 for the game). Down 4, Devoe Joseph took the ball the length of the court but settled for a 10 foot jump shot instead of getting to the rim. All that time our two leading scorers, Trevor Mbakwe and Blake Hoffarber, didn't take a shot. In these situations the go-to guy really has to be Al Nolen. He is the one guy on this team who can get himself all the way to the rim, the trouble is he struggles to finish with a made basket more than most. Devoe is more of a shooter than a scorer. He can nail that game winning shot for you because he can get himself an open shot, though it is usually a fade-away. But down 2, 3 or 4 needing to get a quick layup is not his strength.

With just under 6 minutes the game was tied and from that point it was Jordan Taylor being greater than the sum of Minnesota's parts.

The Gophers (11-2, 0-1) went 1 for 10 from the field during that span, including six straight misses by Devoe Joseph, Colton Iverson, Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III. That's four Minnesota players trying to do the job that one player did for the Badgers (11-2, 1-0).

The final minute was still anybody's game but Wisconsin made a couple plays to finish off the Gophers. Trailing by 2, Al Nolen defended Jordan Taylor very well forcing a missed three with 16 seconds left. But Jon Leuer was not boxed out and he secured the rebound essentially sealing the win. After that the Badgers went 4/4 from the free throw line and it was over.

With all of that said there were some things we did well. We dominated the paint and we dominated the boards. Trevor Mbakwe had yet another double-double and Ralph Sampson scored 14 points to go with 7 seven rebounds. As a team we outscored Wisconsin in the paint 34-12. And we really beat them up rebounding to the tune of 42-24! That is really an astounding rebounding differential, against a good rebounding team. 17 offensive rebounds led to 16 second chance points. We also did a great job taking care of the ball with only 8 turnovers! But Wisconsin was better with only 2 for the game, a truly astounding number. So it was the Badger's ball control and shooting that bested our rebounding interior dominance.

The game had a very distinct Minnesota flavor to it. The Gophers started four players who are native to Minnesota and Wisconsin started 3. For the Badgers their Minnesota natives accounted for 67.6% of their points and 58.3% of their rebounds.

It was a good game, we did some things very well and like I said earlier some of our deficienies were exposed enough that it was a loss. No moral victories in the Big Ten but this was a one possession game on the road against another very good team. If we play like that we'll be just fine this season. Not good enough to win the league but good enough to get a favored seed and a product worth watching this season.

Video of Tubby Smith's post game press conference below the break.

There is no time to dwell on this game as Michigan State is up next on New Year's Eve.

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