Date/Time -Thursday, February 13, 8 p.m. Central
Arena –Kohl Center (17,249)
Television -ESPN (Joe Tessitore and Sean Farnham)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Minnesota leads 102-92 (Wisconsin leads 60-33 in Madison)
Last Meeting - Minnesota won, 81-68, on January 24, 2014 in Minneapolis
Wisconsin Probable Starters
1 Ben Brust (6-1 Senior Guard, 13.3 ppg)
12 Traevon Jackson (6-2 Junior Guard, 11.0 ppg)
15 Sam Dekker (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 13.7 ppg)
21 Josh Gasser (6-3 Junior Guard, 8.7 ppg)
44 Frank Kaminsky (7-0 Junior Forward, 12.4 ppg)
Off the Bench
10 Nigel Hayes (6-7 Freshman Forward, 7.5 ppg)
13 Duje Dukan (6-9 Junior Forward, 2.8 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-3 Freshman Guard, 3.3 ppg)
Minnesota Probable Starters
1 Andre Hollins (6-2 Junior Guard, 14.9 ppg)
4 Deandre Mathieu (5-9 Junior Guard, 11.8 ppg)
20 Austin Hollins (6-4 Senior Guard, 11.7 ppg)
24 Joey King (6-9 Sophomore Forward, 6.4 ppg)
55 Elliott Eliason (6-11 Junior Center, 6.1 ppg)
Off the Bench
5 Daquein McNeil (6-3 Freshman Guard, 1.8 ppg)
10 Oto Osenieks (6-8 Junior Guard, 6.3 ppg)
15 Mo Walker (6-10 Junior Guard, 7.5 ppg)
30 Malik Smith (6-2 Senior Guard, 10.0 ppg)
Last Time Out
MADISON - One could understand why Wisconsin's players briefly lost composure, starting to celebrate before sprinting back on defense for the final seconds. After all, the Badgers haven't had many moments to celebrate about in the past few weeks.
"We got a little ahead of ourselves," said junior Josh Gasser.
Good thing the final seconds didn't do anything to take away Traevon Jackson's latest chapter in late-game heroics.
Jackson gave Wisconsin and its fan base reason to celebrate after hitting a tough two-point jumper with 2.1 seconds left, giving the Badgers a 60-58 win over No.9 Michigan State in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 17,249 at the Kohl Center Sunday.
It had been over three years since Wisconsin (19-5, 6-5 Big Ten) beat Michigan State, as the Spartans' five game series winning streak was based off State's stingy defense. In Wisconsin's losing streak to the Spartans, the Badgers had shot less than 35 percent from the field in each game and shot 25 percent from 3-point range.
This time it was UW who dictated the defense, limiting the Spartans (20-4, 9-2) to 40 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from 3-point range. UW finished 45.2 percent from the floor, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and put four players in double figures.
"(Defense) is what we've both hung our hats on," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "It was hard getting an easy look."
Not for Jackson in the final 8.7 seconds, who dribbled the length of the court, hesitated slightly around the perimeter, started to drive to the basket off a screen from Frank Kaminsky and pulled up to hit the winner.
"His decision making has been a little sporadic at times but in a last second situation, if it starts in his hands, I feel very confident we're going to get something," said Ryan. "Doesn't mean he has to take the shot, but he was wide open on that pull up."
Jackson wasn't alone in delivering timely contributions. Hayes delivered a team-high 14 points, one of four players in double figures, but Wisconsin got critical 3-pointers from struggling shooters Ben Brust and Kaminsky in the final minutes.
Brust – missing his first seven 3-pointers – made his only perimeter shot with 3:37 left to give Wisconsin a 55-48 lead, while Kaminsky, 2-for-12 from three over his seven games, hit his 3-pointer with 29 seconds left, giving UW a 58-53 advantage.
Michigan State was playing without standout guards Keith Appling (wrist) and Branden Dawson (hand), but got 24 points from senior center Adreian Payne, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key that tied the score at 58 before Jackson's winner.
- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com
MINNEAPOLIS - 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.
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.
- Benjamin Worgull, BadgerNation.com
Bo Ryan owns a 16-6 (.727) record against Minnesota overall, including a sparkling 9-1 mark against the Gophers at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers have won 5 of the last 7 games against the Gophers, but Minnesota won this season's earlier contest, 81-68, in Minneapolis. The home team has won each of the last 4 meetings and 7 of the last 8 dating back to 2009.
Wisconsin has won 15 of the last 16 games against Minnesota in Madison. In fact, the Gophers are a mere 1-12 overall at the Kohl Center, pulling out a 78-74 overtime win in 2009. Prior to that, Minnesota's last win in Madison came in 1994 at the UW Field House.
Sophomore Sam Dekker scored in double figures in all 3 career meetings with Minnesota, including 20 points and 6 rebounds in this season's earlier meeting. Dekker is averaging 14.7 ppg and 5.3 rpg. Dekker has gone 5-for-13 from 3-point range and 15-for-18 at the FT line in 3 games against the Gophers.
Nigel Hayes won his 3rd Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor Monday after scoring 14 pts in each of UW's wins last week. He is averaging 10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg and shooting .582 FG percent during conference play.
UW needs one more victory to post 20 wins for the 11th time in Bo Ryan's 13 seasons and the 8th-straight season. Only Ohio State (8) has a longer active streak of consecutive 20-win seasons. In the 103 years of Wisconsin basketball prior to Ryan's arrival, the Badgers tallied a TOTAL of four seasons with 19 or more wins.
UW is averaging 73.0 points per game, an increase of 8.0 ppg from last season's 65.0-point average. UW hasn't averaged 73 points in a season since the 1994-95 team scored 73.0 per game.
Minnesota leads the league in steals per game (8.3), is second in free throw percentage (.748), and ranks fourth in scoring (74.2 ppg), three-pointers made per game (7.1) and assists (14.4).
Andre Hollins suffered a left ankle sprain 16 seconds into the Jan. 22 game against Wisconsin. Hollins missed games against Nebraska (1/26) and Northwestern (2/1) before making his return as a starter at Purdue on Feb. 5.
Eliason currently leads the Gophers and is third in the Big Ten with an average of 7.7 rebounds per game.
The Gophers are second in the B1G as a team with an overall free-throw percentage of .748 (391- 523). That is currently the second-highest team FT percentage in the history of the program.
Having been a head coach for 30 years and a collegiate player before that, Bo Ryan can't remember having self doubt entering a basketball game.
"I can't remember not believing that, if you did the right thing, stuck to the fundamentals, kept working at things, that they're always going to work out," said Ryan
That's why Ryan and Wisconsin haven't been too high after a win or too low after a loss, two things that have been challenged to great lengths this season. Winning their first 16 games, including three games against teams currently in the top20, the Badgers were the talk of the town and the country. Five losses in six games later, they were hardly a blip.
Although players have admitted their confidence has been rattled at points, including Dekker with his shot and Kaminsky with his low-post aggressiveness, the message and the preparation hasn't been drastically altered by their coach who has won at least 19 games in all 13 of his UW seasons.
"I go into every game trying to give the players a chance to understand what it takes to be successful and show them things and talk to them about things," said Ryan. "It's the same group that was doing some (positive) things earlier and not doing some things earlier that we got away with, which is things I knew about as weaknesses. So they still have to keep working on those."
Ryan said Wisconsin's interior defense, from the Badgers' level, has been average this season, not a surprise considering UW had a formidable line last season with three seniors who played a lot of minutes, not leaving many available for Dekker and Kaminsky.
"The learning curve is what it is to this point," said Ryan. "They've had some good games. They've had some games where they've struggled."
One of the biggest struggles this year has been the game up at Williams Arena.
Scoring on 20 of 26 possessions in the second half, Minnesota scored a total of 48 points in the paint, 15 off second chances and had its big men to score a combined 34 points. It was part of a three-game losing streak that saw Wisconsin give up 77.7 points per game and allowed its opponents to a combined 55.0 percent.
"In this league, if you're like that, then you get exposed," said assistant coach Gary Close. "The league's that good. We understand that. We knew that going in and we knew that even before this streak started, that it's a very fine line between winning and losing in this league."
Center Mo Walker entered that night against Wisconsin averaging 4.9 points per game with a college high of 11 points. He surpassed that with 12 points just 9 minutes 57 seconds into the game and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes.
Since that night (a four game stretch), he's averaging 24.5 minutes per game, shooting 61.5 percent from the floor and scoring 13.5 points per game
"We've been in situations where somebody may have had a good game numbers wise but we did such a good job on the other guys that we were still able to be on the left-hand side of the score," said Ryan. "If somebody gets a lot of points, you better hope you take away some things in some other areas. We didn't do that when we played up at Minnesota."
Wisconsin has had two feel-good wins over struggling opponents – Illinois has lost 9 of 10 and Michigan State was without its two top guards – and has arguably the toughest part of its toughest month coming up next with road trips to Michigan Sunday and Iowa next Saturday.
The Gophers are a different team away from the Barn, going 1-4 on the road in Big Ten play, and haven't been able to sustain success since beating Wisconsin, going 1-3 in the last four. I wouldn't label this a "must win" for UW, but it's one that the Badgers need to have if it wants to continue building momentum heading toward the month of March and keeping its faith regular season title hopes alive.
I pick Wisconsin by six.
Worgull's Record: 16-8
Points off Prediction: 219 (9.1 per game)