Wisconsin’s first half was a summary of how the last six games had gone for the Badgers, going 5-for-20 from the field over the first 12 minutes, 48 seconds. After making their next six shots to help climb back into the game, Wisconsin finished the first half the same way it started, shooting 1-for-5 from the field over the last 2:53.
After shooting 38.7 percent (12-for-31) from the field in the first half, it was fair to wonder if Wisconsin could put together a consistent second half in order to take control of the game. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the Badgers’ offense caught fire after halftime by going 13-for-26 from the field.
Bronson Koenig was one of the reasons for Wisconsin’s second-half success. After only playing five minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, Koenig went off by scoring 17 points on 5-for-12 shooting. The 17 points by Koenig was the most he scored in one half this season, in large part because the senior went 5-for-7 from the perimeter. Koenig was one of five players to make a three (Zak Showalter had a pair), as the Badgers finished the game 10-for-18 (55.6 percent) from the perimeter.
Showalter (5-for-8) and Nigel Hayes (5-for-10) each finished with 12 points, helping compensate for Ethan Happ continuing to struggle with his shot (4-for-12, nine points). Vitto Brown rounded out the starters scoring with five points, and D'Mitrik Trice scored six of his eight points in the second half. Overall Wisconsin finished the game 25-for-57 (43.9 percent) from the field.
Happ didn’t nearly have the offensive success like he did in the first meeting, as Minnesota’s double teams frustrated the sophomore and caused him to miss his first five shots. Even so, Happ was aggressive throughout the game and attacked the basket against Minnesota’s interior. While he couldn’t get the post shots to fall, Happ was able to consistently find a way to follow his misses, as he led Wisconsin with 13 rebounds (five offensive). Overall Wisconsin finished the game with 11 offensive rebounds that turned into 12 points.
Minnesota was one of the hottest offensive teams entering Sunday, but Wisconsin’s defense was able to keep the Gophers in check throughout the game. Not willing to allow Minnesota to gain the same kind of comfort they have established in past games, the Badgers were able to hold the Gophers to shoot 18-for-56 (32.1 percent) from the field.
Over Minnesota’s past eight games Nate Mason, Amir Coffey, Jordan Murphy, Akeem Springs and Dupree McBrayer all average at least 10 points a game. Mason and Coffey were the only two players to hit double figures. Although Mason led Minnesota in scoring with 17 points, Showalter made sure it wasn’t easy for him. Mason finished the game 8-for-20 from the field and didn’t register an assist for the first time in seven games. Coffey finished with 13 points.
Murphy in particular was on an offensive tear but foul trouble and strong defense by Wisconsin limited him to six points and five rebounds in 14 minutes of work. McBrayer – who said prior to the game that Minnesota was the more confident team – had seven points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field and Springs – who had 16 points in the first meeting against UW - was held scoreless on six field goal attempts.
The aggressive defense by Wisconsin paid off with seven steals against the Gophers with Trice leading the way with three swipes. Overall Minnesota finished the game with 12 turnovers, although Wisconsin only cashed it six points with the extra offensive possessions.
With Murphy and Reggie Lynch both on the bench for a better part of the second half, it took away the ability for Minnesota to generate quality looks around the rim and second-chance opportunities. Holding Minnesota to 20 points in the paint, it marked the fourth time in the last five games the Badgers held an opponent to fewer than 24 points in the lane. It also helped that Wisconsin found ways of contesting shots and blocked five shots, including two by Happ.
The Gophers finished the game with 12 offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points, losing the rebounding battle 40-38, including 24-17 in the second half.
That was the kind of performance Wisconsin needed heading into the postseason. Although inconsistent shooting in the first half, the Badgers were able to generate the kind of second half they needed in order to sprint ahead.
Although Wisconsin went into halftime down two points, the Badgers started the second half 7-for-11 (63.6 percent) from the field and took the lead for good at 36-33 with 15:33 to go in the game, thanks to a 3-pointer by Hayes. Wisconsin didn’t start pulling away from Minnesota until Trice went on an individual run.
With Wisconsin up 40-35 with 12:26 to go, Trice was able to bury a three while being fouled by Murphy and complete the four-point play. After getting a stop on defense, Wisconsin built its lead on the ensuing possession with a Trice layup off an assist by Brown.
Wisconsin did go on a mini scoring drought that lasted 3:29, allowing Minnesota to cut the lead to as few as six points, but a Showalter layup at the 5:06 mark to and a jumper by Hayes two possessions later quickly pushed the lead back up to 10.
Wisconsin was able to generate its offensive success in the first half due to getting the ball in the paint, as five of Wisconsin’s six straight made field goals came in the lane. Minnesota had shown throughout conference play its ability to contest shots, as Lynch was responsible for all five of Minnesota’s blocks. Wisconsin finished the game with 28 points in the paint, 18 of them coming in the first half, and the trio of Happ (five), Hayes (three) and Brown (three) were responsible for 11 of Wisconsin’s 14 assists.
Game MVP: Senior Class. The senior class for Wisconsin all played an important role in helping end its three game skid. With Koenig on the bench for the majority of the first half, it allowed Showalter and Hayes to each score seven points on a combined 6-for-11 shooting from the field. Brown was able to help provide the spark Wisconsin needed in the first half, as his three brought Wisconsin within 20-19 and his assist on a Hayes dunk also kept Wisconsin close.
Koenig was able to help Wisconsin pull away late, as his three consecutive 3-pointers allowed Wisconsin to make sure there wasn’t going be another late comeback. Koenig’s first three came at 19:25 to put the Badgers up one, his second one tied the game and his third one extended the lead to 13. Koenig seemed to consistently have an answer to making sure the Gophers didn’t stay in the game. Outside of Koenig’s scoring outburst in the second half, he also registered two steals, one block and one assist to one turnover.