But there's little time for celebration.
Coach Tubby Smith understands the need to get No. 22 Saturday against Michigan to raise the Gophers' profile with the NCAA Tournament selection committee and enter the Big Ten tournament on a high note.
Minnesota's pedestrian RPI continues to hover around 40, mostly because of the light nonconference schedule it played in November and December. But with that behind them, the Gophers can only take care of what's ahead — Michigan and the Big Ten tournament.
Wednesday's win was critical because of where it puts Minnesota in the standings but also because, with an identical 9-8 conference record to Wisconsin, the Gophers should hold the trump card because they swept the Badgers this season.
With two more wins — Saturday morning and in the conference tourney — the Gophers would feel very good about their chances.
MINNESOTA 51, WISCONSIN 46: Defense wins, eh? That was the ticket for Minnesota on Wednesday, when they stamped out the Badgers' methodical offense and limited them to 16 points in the first half. Since the Gophers are 33-1 in the Tubby Smith era when leading at the half, but the game tightened down the stretch, with Wisconsin missing a game-tying chance in the final minute.
The Gophers limited Wisconsin to 15 field goals and 33.3 percent shooting.
G Lawrence Westbrook had 15 points in 18 minutes to lead Minnesota.
IN FOCUS: Winner gets a ticket to the NCAA Tournament? Perhaps. There's plenty on the line in The Barn, where Minnesota has been excellent (16-2) this season. The Gophers suffered a 12-point loss at Michigan two weeks ago behind Zack Novak's six 3-point bombs.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters — G Lawrence Westbrook, G Al Nolen, F Damian Johnson, F Ralph Sampson III, C Colton Iverson. Key Subs — G Blake Hoffarber, F Paul Carter, F Jamal Abu-Shamala, G/F Travis Busch, G Devoe Joseph, G Devron Bostick.
Michigan 74, Minnesota 62
Minnesota 72, Northwestern 45
Illinois 52, Minnesota 41
Minnesota 51, Wisconsin 46
vs. Michigan, Saturday, March 7
Big Ten tournament at Indianapolis, March 12-15