Nothing was going right for the Badgers less than 48 hours after their biggest win of the season. Shots weren't dropping, frustration was mounting and another call appeared to go against Wisconsin, drawing the ire of the UW bench.
"The first half was ugly," said junior Ryan Evans. "There were a lot of whistles in this game."
It instead turned out to be the powder keg the Badgers needed. Wisconsin found some life on a 21-7 run in the second half and senior Jordan Taylor scored 17 of his 22 points in the second half to push them past Minnesota, 52-45, in front of 17,230 restless, sometimes irritable, crowd at the Kohl Center.
The win clinches Wisconsin (22-8, 11-6 Big Ten) a first round bye in the Big Ten Tournament for the 12th straight year and 11th time under Bo Ryan, who moved one win shy of Bud Foster's school record 265 victories. This one, however, was devoid of style points.
The two teams combined for nine first-half field goals and each had a scoring drought of at least 14 minutes throughout, but the Badgers always appeared a step behind until junior Mike Bruesewitz was awarded for his aggressiveness.
Down 25-22 with 16:04 to go, Bruesewitz drove the lane, made a rare layup and drew a whistle, thinking he was getting a 3-point opportunity with Andre Hollins having his foot inside the circle.
Official Ed Hightower, who had given UW coach Bo Ryan a technical and multiple bench warnings in the first half, saw the opposite, ruled it a charge and prepared to give the ball back to the Gophers.
"I thought I got there and he was inside the circle; that's kind of why I went up" said Bruesewitz (3 points). "Coach Ryan always tells us to attack if a guy is in the circle … That would have been my third foul and I would have been sitting on the bench."
Following an officials' huddle, the call was reverse, sending Minnesota coach Tubby Smith flaying down his bench in disgust and UW off and running – as the Badgers scored 16 of the next 23 points to take command and shoot 44 percent in the second half.
"That (play) was huge," said Hollins, who led the Gophers (17-13, 5-12) with 19 points, but shot 3-for-12 from the floor. "I can't wait to see a tape because I'm pretty sure I was outside the charge lane. They overturned it, but it didn't go our way. I don't know. It was frustrating."
His head coach wasn't as diplomatic when asked if he received an explanation from the officiating crew.
"You don't get one," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "You're gonna huddle like that and change the call? Are you kidding me? It's a joke. It really is."
Just like he did earlier this season at Minnesota, Taylor found his footing. In his final regular season matchup against his home state school, Taylor caught fire after Bruesewitz 3-point play, scoring eight of his points during the commanding stretch.
The biggest shot coming on a four-point possession for Wisconsin, as Taylor drilled a 3-pointer after Rob Wilson missed the second of two free throws to put Wisconsin up 41-32 with 7:36 remaining.
"You just have to try to find ways to try to score," said Taylor, who passed Devin Harris for ninth on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,438 points. "We did a pretty good jobs at times when we get a little stagnate and other guys pitch in. That makes it a lot easier when you are a guard."
The 3-point shot saved Wisconsin, as the Badgers were outscored 14-4 in the paint and 12-3 on second chance points but outscore Minnesota by 12 from 3-point range. Wisconsin also went 16 of 20 from the free throw line in the second half compared to just 10 of 16 for Minnesota with Ryan Evans (12 points, 8 rebounds) making all of his free throws.
"Those few threes that we hit early certainly made a difference with the score," said Ryan. "Once we got it to where it was tied and they were playing very physical, we got to the free throw line."
Neither team was pleased with the three-man officiating crew of Hightower, Terry Wymer and Larry Scirotto. A no call following Josh Gasser hitting Andre Hollins on the arm on a 3-point attempt drew anger from the Gophers bench and a technical on Smith during the media timeout.
It was just more frustrations for a Gophers team that has lost six straight, went 15:08 without a field goal, held to a season-low 45 points and put Wisconsin in the bonus after 5:35 with a 7-2 foul discrepancy.
"I don't know why we can't finish around the basket," said Smith. "It was an ugly guy as far as how we shot the ball."
Wisconsin started the game making its first three shots, but went 1-for-18 the rest of the half to shoot 19 percent in its lowest shooting first half of the season. The Badgers didn't score a point over a six-minute stretch and didn't make a field in the final 12:34, resulting in their lowest half total (16) since the 16 first-half points of last year's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals.
As bad as it could have been, Wisconsin trailed 23-16 at halftime because it held Minnesota without a field goal for the final 8:01, a number that continued growing until Rodney Williams' layup with 12:53 remaining.
It coincided after Ryan was whistled for a technical with 3:08 remaining in the first half arguing whether a technical should have been called, but he didn't put stock in it giving his team the boost, even though it scored the next 10 points to erase Minnesota's biggest lead of the game and give UW its biggest comeback win of the season.
"Whenever he gets a technical, he's not happy about something, which usually means we need to start doing something different," said Taylor. "He challenged us to get it going ... It helped jump start us a little bit. We have to do a better job not getting to that point."