Badgers have no answer for Grier, Gopher defense

Minnesota guard goes off for 32 points, 26 in the second half

MINNEAPOLIS —Vincent Grier 1, Wisconsin 0.

In addition to turnovers and poor shooting, Minnesota's junior guard was way too much for the 19th-ranked Wisconsin men's basketball team to overcome Saturday.

The junior college transfer put on a clinic in the second half, scoring 26 of his game-high 32 points in leading the Gophers over the Badgers 60-50.

The loss drops UW's record to 6-3 in the Big Ten, 15-5 overall and places them in a tie for third with Minnesota (6-3, 16-6) in the Big Ten standings.

"He got a lot of good clips, he's a really good player," UW head coach Bo Ryan said of Grier. "Give him credit, he found the circle."

No matter who the Badgers threw at Grier defensively after halftime, it was to no avail as he connected on 12 of 14 shots in the second half. No matter if he put the ball on the floor and penetrated or spotted for jumpers, the shots just continued to fall for Grier and the Badgers never found a solution.

For the game, Grier hit 14 of 21 attempts from the field.

"He got hot and the team kept feeding him," said UW sophomore forward Alando Tucker, who returned to the Badgers' starting lineup Saturday after sitting out the last two games. "They saw that he was hot and just kept going to him figuring ‘hey we'll go to him until he misses' and he hit some nice mid-range jumpers. We needed to force him to take tougher shots and we didn't do that."

As much as Grier's stellar shooting lifted the Gophers to the victory, the Minnesota defense also did more than its part in completely taking the Badgers' offense out of rhythm from the onset of the game.

Forcing four UW turnovers in the opening four minutes, Minnesota's full court pressure led the Gophers to an early 15-5 lead.

Despite being shell-shocked by the effectiveness of the Gophers' pressure, Wisconsin managed to hang in the game behind their 3-point shooting and trailed by only five, at 22-17, with 7:41 remaining in the half.

For the rest of the half, both teams struggled mightily from the field and only the Badgers were able to notch any more points before halftime. Minnesota missed its final 11 shots of the first half. In the meantime, Wisconsin used a 7-0 run to grab 24-22 lead with just under five minutes remaining before halftime.

But like the Gophers, UW could not connect on anything the rest of the half. The Badgers shot 30 percent in the first half while Minnesota connected on just 31 percent of its first-half shots.

As much as Minnesota struggled hitting shots late in the first half, they were able to find their shooting touch right away in the second half courtesy of Grier.

After senior Mike Wilkinson hit a 3-pointer on UW's opening possession to give the Badgers' a five-point lead (their largest of the game), Grier led the Gophers on a 18-7 run over the next eight minutes to give his team a 40-34 lead with 12:41 left in the game.

Tucker answered to cut the lead to four on Wisconsin's next two possessions. However, as soon as Tucker made both baskets to bring the Badgers back, Grier answered for Minnesota.

With everything seemingly falling for Grier in the second half, the Gophers' leading scorer also managed to bank in a jump shot with 5:54 remaining—an exclamation point on a tremendous shooting performance.

"I thought Grier was a little selfish in the second half," Ryan jokingly said. "You can tell him I said that: ‘Hey, Vince, you're a little too selfish. You can't make 12 out of 14 field goals like that. Share the ball a little.'"

Wisconsin was able to come as close as six in the final seven minutes, but execution and turnovers again plagued the Badgers.

"We didn't handle the pressure at all. And that's one thing, we had too many turnovers and they converted from those turnovers," Tucker said. "That's one of the drawing factors of the game. Three or four possessions in a row, we'd come and turn the ball over and they converted from that. That's something we can't do."

Exploiting the Badgers' ball-handling and consistently testing them to break the press, Minnesota suffocated Wisconsin and forced them to cough the ball up 17 times. The Gophers capitalized on the turnovers, translating them into 23 points.

"The most aggressive defense on the ball we've faced in a while," Ryan said.

Even when the Badgers managed to get the ball past half court, their shot selection was questionable, especially down the stretch. Twice the Badgers flirted with a late comeback comeback, getting as close as six. In the process, Wisconsin did not help itself by taking quick and ill-advised shots.

"We came down a couple times and took quick shots," Tucker said. "We didn't run our offense at all towards the end of the second half and that hurt us. We took quick 3s instead of making them foul us and getting to the free throw line."

For the game, the Badgers shot a dismal 33 percent from the field and connected on only 6 of 22 3-point attempts against the Big Ten's best 3-point field goal percentage defense.

Conversely, the Gophers shot 46 percent from the field for the contest, in large part because of Grier's shooting in the final 20 minutes.

Grier was the only Minnesota player in double-digits for the game. Center Jeff Hagen led Minnesota with eight rebounds and three blocks and added seven points.

Wilkinson led the Badgers with 14 points and Tucker added 10. Wisconsin's starting backcourt of seniors Sharif Chambliss and Clayton Hanson and sophomore Kammron Taylor combined to scored 18 points on 6 of 29 from the field. Box Score

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