Preview: No.20 Wisconsin at Minnesota

After a big win at home over No.3 Michigan kept them in the thick of the Big Ten title race, No.20 Wisconsin is looking for some love against Williams Arena, hoping to push its winning streak to five over Minnesota Thursday night.

No.17 Wisconsin (17-7, 8-3 Big Ten) at Minnesota (17-7, 5-6 Big Ten)

Date/Time -Thursday, February 14, 6 p.m. Central

Arena –Williams Arena (14,625)

Television - ESPN (Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Minnesota leads 100-92 (Minnesota leads 67-31 in Minneapolis)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 45-44, on January 26, 2012 in Madison

Wisconsin Probable Starters

1 Ben Brust (6-1 Junior Guard, 11.2 ppg)

5 Ryan Evans (6-6 Senior Forward, 10.8 ppg)

12 Traevon Jackson (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 6.2 ppg)

31 Mike Bruesewitz (6-6 Senior Forward, 7.0 ppg)

40 Jared Berggren (6-10 Senior Forward, 11.9 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 George Marshall (5-11 Freshman Guard, 5.0 ppg)

15 Sam Dekker (6-7 Freshman Forward, 8.8 ppg)

32 Zak Showalter (6-2 Freshman Guard, 2.1 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (6-11 Sophomore Forward, 4.8 ppg)

Minnesota Probable Starters

1 Andre Hollins (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 13.8 ppg)

11 Joe Coleman (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 9.7 ppg)

20 Austin Hollins (6-4 Junior Guard, 11.2 ppg)

32 Trevor Mbakwe (6-8 Senior Forward, 9.6 ppg)

33 Rodney Williams (6-7 Senior Forward, 11.9 ppg)

Off the Bench

0 Julian Welch (6-3 Senior Guard, 3.3 ppg)

3 Wally Ellenson (6-4 Freshman Guard, 2.0 ppg)

10 Oto Osenieks (6-8 Sophomore Guard, 2.3 ppg)

13 Maverick Ahanmisi (6-2 Junior Guard, 3.8 ppg)

15 Maurice Walker (6-10 Sophomore Guard, 2.4 ppg)

Last Time Out

MADISON (BadgerNation) - Arguably the deadliest three-point shooter on Wisconsin's roster, Brust hit an improbable three-pointer just past halfcourt at the end of regulation and the game-winning three with 39.6 seconds left to lift the Badgers to a 65-62 overtime victory over No.3 Michigan Saturday.

"It was awesome," said Brust. "Something I will remember forever, and I am sure a lot of people will … To win the game in overtime makes it that much sweeter. We're right in the hunt."

After losing three of four following its upset at No.2 Indiana, the third straight win for Wisconsin has put the Badgers in the thick of the conference race with seven games to go.

"This is a group that just finds different ways," said UW coach Bo Ryan, who improved to 16-5 against Michigan. "They're great to have in practice, too. They're working it. They're trying."

Wisconsin got five players in double figures and three players with at least eight rebounds. Brust led the way with 14 points and commanded all the attention after.

Burst was averaging only 2.1 three-point makes per game and hadn't made more than three three-point attempts since December 4. That changed dramatically with Brust took the inbounds pass from Bruesewitz near halfcourt, took one dribble and drained the tying three-point shot with Caris LeVert trying to contest as time expired in regulation.

"I knew I had to get (the shot) off," said Brust. "I wanted to at least give it a chance."

With two fouls to give, Michigan coach John Beilein instructed his players to foul upon the inbounds pass but Brust was able to get a step on LeVert, who couldn't catch up to foul him.

"(Brust) turned the corner on Caris," said Beilein, who is 1-10 against Ryan, "and he couldn't get it done in time."

But with Brust and Bruesewitz acknowledging the shot would have been meaningless had Wisconsin not won its second overtime game in four days, Brust made sure he wasn't done with LeVert. After each team traded baskets in the first overtime session, Brust got enough separation from LeVert to hit the game's final basket with 39 seconds left.

Last Meeting

MADISON (BadgerNation) - It was slowest game of the season in Big Ten play with only 51 possessions but Wisconsin's 45-44 victory over No.12 Minnesota was big in terms of regaining a foothold in a tight conference race. It was even bigger for Jackson in his maturation process, as the sophomore hit the game winner in the final seconds.

Of the eight players who had started for Wisconsin this season, Jackson had the worst shooting percentage (33.3 percent) and second worst from 3-point range (23.1 percent). Despite having the fifth-most minute average (23.8), Jackson had the second most fouls on the team, including four against Michigan State that gave Jackson a look of bewilderment each team the official blew his whistle.

That wasn't the case against Minnesota, as Jackson scored six of his nine points in the final 7:02, committed only one foul and admitted he was hunting for his shot in a game where neither team led by more than two points the final 10 minutes.

"I felt that I needed to step up and hit the shots," Jackson said. "I don't have any fear."

Wisconsin's final two possessions was the definition of fearlessness. With a little over a minute remaining, Jackson crossed the face of Mbakwe and hit a pull up jumper in the face of Austin Hollins at the free throw line to the score for the sixth time.

The crossover worked so well on Mbakwe that he did it again one possession later, used a shot fake to get Mbakwe out of position, released the shot with less than a second left on the shot clock and gave UW the lead with 2.1 seconds left.

"A lack of discipline," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith of Jackson's final shot. "He shot fakes (and) we jump out of the way, a mistake."

After Mbakwe's jumper with 3:53 remaining gave the Gophers a 43-41 lead, Minnesota didn't hit another field goal on its final five possessions, which include a shot clock violation and an offensive foul by Andre Hollins (game-high 20 points) in the paint with 39 seconds left.

Minnesota had a chance to send the game to overtime after Mbakwe drew a foul with 1.7 seconds left, but was unable to shoot after injuring his right wrist on the play. In his place, the Badgers sent Rodney Williams – a career 57.9 free throw shooter - to the line to shoot Mbakwe's attempts.

Williams made the first but was too long on the second, allowing Wisconsin to secure the rebound and dribble out the clock.

Series Notes:

Bo Ryan owns a 16-4 (.800) record against Minnesota with a 6-3 mark at Williams Arena.

The Badgers have won 16 of the last 20, including four straight. Minnesota's last win over UW came nearly two years ago in a 68-52 victory at Williams Arena (2/18/10).

Minnesota is averaging just 52.5 points per game during Wisconsin's 4-game win streak.

Ryan Evans has averaged 13.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in his last 3 match-ups with the Gophers, including his first-career double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds in the Feb. 9, 2012 meeting.

The Badgers' roster has 3 players from the state of Minnesota: Jared Berggren (Princeton), Mike Bruesewitz (St. Paul) and Jordan Smith (Orono).

Wisconsin Notes

With wins over Indiana and Michigan, the Badgers are the nation's only team to own multiple wins over teams currently ranked in the AP top 4. The top four teams have a combined 11 losses and UW is responsible for two of them.

Including a perfect record of 15-0 this season, Wisconsin has won 50 consecutive games when leading or tied with 5:00 remaining.

A year after leading the nation in scoring defense at 53.2 ppg, Wisconsin is at it again. UW leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th in the nation allowing just 56.5 points per game.

According to the Sagarin Ratings, Wisconsin is ranked No. 13 in the country, having played the 7thtoughest schedule in the nation.

Since Bo Ryan was hired in 2001, Wisconsin has been the Big Ten's best road team, owning the most true road wins (65) and best road win percentage (.504) in the conference.

Minnesota Notes:

Mbakwe is averaging a double-double of 10.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game over the Gophers' last 15 games. He currently sits atop the Big Ten Conference in rebounding with an overall average of 8.8 rebounds per game and also is tops during Big Ten play with a 10.7 rpg average.

The Gophers head into the matchup against Wisconsin as the top team in the B1G Conference in blocked shots (145 - 6.0 bpg).

The Gophers also lead the conference in offensive rebounds per game (15.5) and offensive rebound percentage (.463).

The Gophers have had five different players lead them in scoring through 24 games this season - Andre Hollins (7 times), Rodney Williams (6 times), Austin Hollins (5), Joe Coleman (4 times) and Trevor Mbakwe (2).

Minnesota currently has nine players that are averaging at least 9.0 minutes played per game, led by Austin Hollins with an average of 29.5 minutes per game.

The Gophers are averaging 39.4 rebounds per game this season, the highest rebounding average in the Tubby Smith era.

Prediction

Breaking down his final regular season matchup against his home-state team, Bruesewitz called the Gophers "one of the most athletic teams in the country with long athletic players who can challenge teams."

Considering how Wisconsin neutralized that athleticism on January 26, the Badgers won't be intimidated, especially going up against senior Trevor Mbakwe.

Although he got eight of his 10 rebounds in the second half in Wisconsin's 45-44 win, Mbakwe was held to only eight points and the Badgers held a Gophers team that led the conference in offensive rebounds per game (16.2) to only eight second-chance opportunities.

"It's amazing what you can do when you make contact and ride a guy out of the paint," said assistant coach Lamont Paris. "He's got to try and make a counter to get to the glass where he's normally used to going in untouched. Some of it is where the shots fall, but some of it is creating your own fortune."

There's no question Wisconsin has gotten some luck to this point to be a game-and-a-half out of first place in the Big Ten with seven games to go (see Brust's half court heave at the end of regulation as an example), but the Badgers have put themselves in position over this current three game winning streak with better team defense.

In a stretch where it lost three of four (the only win coming over Minnesota), Wisconsin allowed its opponents to shoot 40.7 percent (which included Ohio State shooting 51.1 percent), attempt 65 free throws and finish minus-1 in overall rebounding.

Over this three game winning streak, Wisconsin has done a better job of contesting shots (38.5 opponent shooting percentage), been competitive in the rebounding battle (plus-4 ) and limit opponent's free throw opportunities to only 39 attempts.

Those numbers become even more impressive considering the Badgers have played an extra 15 minutes of basketball with three overtime sessions.

"We've gotten into a little better groove," said Paris.

With injuries and shaken confidence, it has the tough road for the Gophers. Losing six of eight, including at Northwestern and at home to Illinois, Minnesota appears stuck in quicksand, but Wisconsin knows the dangers of playing a hungry team after a big win.

Four days after upsetting No.2 Indiana on the road, Wisconsin turned in a clunker first half that cost them a win at Iowa.

"We go into Iowa and we got punched," said Bruesewitz. "That's just how this league is and how it's going to be."

Minnesota probably feels its backs are against the wall and will likely bring more energy with a border rival coming into town that beat them on a last-second shot. Playing at home, the Gophers tend to play more aggressive, but that could benefit the Badgers' physical style of play.

Road wins are tough in the Big Ten, but nobody wins road games like Bo Ryan and Wisconsin. It's hard picking a team to win on the road, but I think the Badgers' wave of momentum will be able to carry them to a four-point victory.

Worgull's Record: 15-9

Points off Prediction: 248 (10.33 per game)


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