Running Short on Answers

No matter the opponent or the venue, No.9 Wisconsin continues to regress defensively, allowing the paint to be an open canvas for conference teams. The latest team to take advantage was Minnesota, who scored 48 points under the basket in a 81-68 throttling of the Badgers at Williams Arena.

MINNEAPOLIS - The best start in school history must feel like eons ago to the University of Wisconsin basketball team.

If this wasn't rock bottom, it certainly feels like for a team now officially in a defensive freefall.

The porous defense continued for the ninth-ranked Badgers, who allowed another opponent – this one Minnesota - to carve up its interior defense in an 81-68 defeat at Williams Arena Wednesday.

And while the Badgers (16-3, 3-3 Big Ten) had chances to overcome their self-inflected woes in their two defeats last week, this one never appeared to be within reach, not with the Badgers reacting with the stopping power of a sieve.

"We've got to bring it for 40 minutes on the defensive end and we haven't the last couple games," said junior Frank Kaminsky. "We've got to be better."

Uncontested dunks, dribble drives that led to easy layups, putbacks off offensive rebounds, poor rotations, standing and watching; you name it and Minnesota (15-5, 4-3) did it to a Wisconsin team that is sinking quickly in the conference standings.

"With the results, it's clear that we gave up way to many easy ones," said junior Josh Gasser. "We kept working it, we kept working it and they made some tough ones, but at the same time we gave up a few easy ones that got them going."

The adjectives coming out of the locker room from Wisconsin's experienced players were the harshest they'd been all season. Gasser said he's tired of talking about the bad defense, Sam Dekker (game-high 20 points) called in an embarrassment and Kaminsky said it was time for UW to buckle down.

"Everyone needs to step up and be a leader," said Kaminsky, "in their own way."

Minnesota's 81 points were the most the Gophers had scored on a Wisconsin team since 1994 and did most of it without leading-scorer Andre Hollins, who played only 16 seconds after he badly rolled his left ankle landing on Gasser's foot on the first possession following a made jumper.

Hollins' injury opened the door for senior Malik Smith, who came off the bench to score 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting in a team-high 34 minutes, and Deandre Mathieu, who had 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting by using his quickness to drive into the paint and score easy buckets.

Wisconsin has allowed consecutive opponents to shoot over 50 percent (Gophers finished at a season-high 58.9), proving that it's not hard to score points so close to the basket.

"The things we're not happy about is we keep making the same mistakes," said Dekker. "We've got to correct that because teams aren't going to back down from us or feel sorry for us if we're not playing good defense."

Minnesota scored 48 points in the paint, 15 off second chances and had its big men to score a combined 34 points. That included zero points from Elliott Eliason, who entered the game averaging 6.8, but a career-high 18 points from Mo Walker, who came in averaging 4.9 points but broke his old scoring mark of 11 with 10 minutes remaining in the first half.

"It's very tough to stop when a guy gets in a groove," said UW coach Bo Ryan, who is on just his fifth losing streak of three-or-more games since taking over Wisconsin (2001-02). "You got to force him out, force him over, force him the opposite way and we didn't do a good job of that either."

The bad defense was just a snapshot of what was a miserable night.

Nigel Hayes committed a lane violation on a missed free throw, allowing Smith a redo free throw that he made. Wisconsin knocked a defensive rebound opportunity into its own bucket, had players yelling and pointing at each other off missed assignments and looked defeated after each Minnesota bucket seemed to come in the maroon portion underneath the basket.

"It's something bold on our list right now that we have to correct and we have to buckle down now," said Dekker. "There's not much else you can say other than we need to be better in every aspect on the defensive end. Usually we take pride in it."

It's at a point where Ryan was trying anything to patch up the team's post defense. With Kaminsky on the bench the last 17-plus minuets of the first half with foul trouble, allowing Minnesota to score 14 of its first 19 points in the paint, Ryan was forced to rotate in seldom-used senior Zach Bohannon and even lesser used true freshman Vitto Brown. The moves proved futile.

"You got to try something," said Ryan.

When Kaminsky returned in the second half, the Badgers challenged more in the paint early, but allowed the uncontested open jump shots, much the same story that was written in UW's home loss Saturday to Michigan.

At this point though, Wisconsin is trying to patch a leak on a submarine with a band aid.

"We have not had the post presence defensively," said Ryan. "Some of it's due to maybe lack of foot speed, lack of recognition but the idea is that you can't give up one thing and turn around, shut that off and give up something else. It's got to be the compete possession, and that's what we haven't been doing."

The Badgers were still at an arm's length at 34-28 at halftime, but never crept closer in the second half despite attacking the rim, going 16-for-17 from the free throw line and shooting 50 percent from the floor, all because Minnesota scored 13 baskets underneath the rim.

"We're scoring fine, but when you don't get stops it doesn't mean nothing," said Gasser. "That's going to be a point of emphasis."

It's got to be, especially with Wisconsin having only two days to prepare to play in an arena they've only won at twice since 1972. It's one of the reasons why the conference standings mean absolutely nothing right now for the Badgers.

"You can't watch and stare at the standings; you've got to take care of yourself and win," said Dekker. "You can't hope for other teams to lose. You just have to go out there and get wins."


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