Madison, Wis.—Minnesota traveled to the Kohl Center on Wednesday night in hopes of finding its first Big Ten victory. With No. 14 Wisconsin (15-3 overall, 6-1 Big Ten) out a few key players, the team riding high on a 24-game home win streak and the Gophers at the bottom of the barrel in the Big Ten, Minnesota was a perfect candidate for an upset.
Unfortunately for the Gophers (8-12, 0-8), junior guard Devin Harris was still present and his career-high 38 points helped fuel Wisconsin's 80-66 victory over the underdogs.
Though Harris was performing at his best, the Badgers did not find this victory with ease. Despite dominating the whole first half, Minnesota was usually on the Badgers' tracks, thanks to freshman forward Kris Humphries' 12 first-half points.
The Gophers built momentum with a 7-0 run to close out the first half and kept it up at the beginning of the second half, presenting a legitimate threat to Wisconsin's streak. Minnesota used senior guard Ben Johnson and Humphries to continue the rally. Johnson hit a jumper at the 15:01 mark to put the Gophers ahead for the first time 37-36. Humphries added another jumper to give Minnesota its biggest lead of the game at 39-36. During the 12-4 run in the opening minutes of the half, Johnson contributed five points while Humphries added another four.
Following the run, it all went downhill for Minnesota as Wisconsin junior forward Zach Morley put the game back into the Badgers' hands. Morley's reverse layup off of a pass from junior guard Clayton Hanson gave them a 42-41 advantage, part of a stretch that saw Morley notch nine of the team's next 13 points, keeping the Gophers off the Badgers' backs. Despite going scoreless in the first half, Morley came out aggressive in the second and ended up with 14 points and 10 boards.
"The coaches told me coming out at halftime that I just need to be a threat out there," Morley said. "At the time we were a little flat out there. I just wanted to do whatever I could to bring energy into the game. Things started going good for us and then the crowd got into it, which was amazing, and from there things just kept going."
But it was Harris who ultimately carried the Badgers, putting on an offensive show. He scored 10 straight points, including two 3-pointers, for the Badgers to put them ahead 59-53. Harris took one shot during the spurt while being tightly covered by Minnesota junior guard Aaron Robinson and hit nothing but the bottom of the net. Harris knocked down another shot from well behind the 3-point line.
Harris's offensive performance did not stop there. After he stole the ball, Harris came down court on a fast break and served up a two-handed reverse jam. That show-stopper near the end of the game gave the guard a near perfect night with 38 points off 10-for-12 shooting and no turnovers.
"He's an NBA player," Minnesota head coach Dan Monson said. "I think he's the best player in this league for a reason. When they were struggling, he put them on his back."
Though Minnesota struggled to keep up with Wisconsin in the end, Humphries proved himself on the court. Despite tough defense from junior forward Mike Wilkinson, he was able to hit everything from highly-defended jumpers on the outside to dunks on the inside. Humphries ended up leading the way for the Gophers with 24 points and eight boards but never got to the charity stripe. Johnson also posted respectable numbers with his 17 points and five steals but it was his five turnovers that got the best of him.
Even though the Badgers were playing without suspended sophomore guard Boo Wade, they welcomed back senior guard Freddie Owens. After missing the last three games with an injured left foot, he was back in the starting lineup tonight and contributed six points during his 25 minutes.
"I thought he did OK early," Ryan said. "I just saw a little tenderness. I might have been reading too much into it…But it looked like he was just about a half-step behind."
Besides the phenomenal performance from Harris, sophomore forward Ray Nixon added six points off the bench while Wilkinson also stayed consistent with his contribution of 15 points and eight rebounds.
Though Minnesota was not able to find the victory, Monson was pleased with some of what he saw.
"I thought our guys competed, I thought they scrapped," Monson said. "I was pleased with our mindset. I think we had energy and competed a lot better, and again, we're 0 and whatever but we've been in every game."
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