The Badgers had four players in double figures, led by junior forward Alando Tucker's 22 points. Freshman walk-on Kevin Gullikson chipped in 12 and freshman forward Joe Krabbenhoft and junior guard Kammron Taylor tallied 10 apiece.
With the victory Wisconsin improved to 19-8 overall and 9-5 in the Big Ten to move into a three-way tie for second place, one game behind league leader Ohio State (21-4, 10-4). The Badgers will close out the Big Ten season with road games at Michigan State Thursday and at Iowa Saturday.
"It was just nice to get this under our belt, get it over with," Gullikson said. "So maybe we've got a little momentum coming in against Michigan State, and we have to keep working hard in practice and be ready for that."
Minnesota (14-11, 5-9) led for much of a back-and-forth first half and rallied to take a lead with just under six minutes left in the game. Wisconsin, though, scored on 11 of its last 13 possessions and made 13 of 14 free throws in the final four minutes and two seconds of the game to secure the victory.
"We've lost a couple games because Michigan and Northwestern—they don't miss a free throw down the stretch," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "We just closed out one the same way."
The Gophers had success offensively for most of the game, but were hampered by foul trouble that helped lead to a season-high 36 free-throw attempts for Wisconsin. The Badgers made a season-best 29 from the charity stripe, while Minnesota was 10 of 12 from the line.
After looking hesitant throughout its game at Northwestern Thursday, the Badgers were aggressive from the opening tip.
"That was definitely a big focus on today," Tucker said of getting to the free-throw line. "That's how you win games. If you are attacking, you are aggressive. I definitely think in the Northwestern game, we watched that and we saw where we had a lot of opportunities where we could and we didn't attack… That was a big concentration coming into this game."
Tucker was limited in UW's loss in Evanston by the after effects of an ankle injury suffered early in practice Monday. He scored 14 points in that game after effectively missing three practices. But Tucker was back to his old self Sunday, aggressively taking the ball to the rim and challenging Minnesota's defense.
"He looked better," Ryan said. "Give credit to the training staff. The fact that he kept doing his rehab. He's been very diligent about that. So, yeah, he did look better. We needed him."
"It didn't seem like we ever got into a defensive flow," Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. "You always talk about offensive flow, but we never got into a rhythm of getting stops and when we did they did a great job of scrapping out some rebounds to keep it alive on us."
Junior forward Jason Chappell converted a layup to give Wisconsin a 59-54 lead with 6:30 left to play, the five-point margin the Badgers' largest of the second half up to that juncture.
The Gophers, though, received a boost from senior guard Adam Boone, who converted a 3-point play and then knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 60-59 Minnesota with 5:45 left.
Minnesota, though, could not keep up with Wisconsin's torrid pace down the stretch. Sophomore forward Brian Butch made a long 2 to give UW a lead, Taylor made a pair of free throws and Gullikson corralled a Taylor miss and put it back to make it 65-60 UW.
Tucker turned it over on UW's next possession, but he made up for that with a long step-back 2 from near the left corner, to put the Badgers back up five at 67-62.
Minnesota would draw no closer than within four the rest of the way and trailed by as many as eight after a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Michael Flowers made it 76-68 with 32.9 seconds remaining.
"You can close out games if you do that," said Ryan, in reference to UW scoring on 11 of its last 13 possessions. "I know a lot of them were free throws but you still have to go to the line and make them, you have to get the ball in, you have to make good decisions. Minnesota has thrown that press on and rattled some people. We've gone into same games at certain times and maybe not made good decisions…
"I'll just talk about the precise passing and the ability to spread the floor and get to the free-throw line. That made the difference."
Minnesota scored 14 points in the final 2:18, but it was not enough to overcome the Badgers' efficient play offensively.
"Offensively we played pretty good," Monson said. "But in this league against the quality of teams at the top, playing good isn't good enough. You have to play great. And we certainly did not play great on the defensive end. When we missed shots we did not get stops and you can't go on the road and try to outscore people."
Minnesota came close. Boone scored 18 points on 6 of 12 shooting, including 3 of 8 from 3-point range, but he fouled out with 43.3 seconds left, after playing 33 minutes. Forward J'son Stamper also fouled out, and guard Vincent Grier and reserve forward Dan Coleman picked up four personals. Grier paced the Gophers with 19 points and seven rebounds. Coleman joined fellow reserves Rico Tucker, Spencer Tollackson and Maurice Hargrow in contributing eight points each.
But it wasn't enough for the Gophers, who will need to win their last two conference games—a home date with Illinois Tuesday and a game at Northwestern Saturday—for any chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament.
"Coming in here and losing is something that a lot of people have done," Monson said. "It's just that we don't have a margin for error to come on the road and lose to anybody right now. We're trying to put ourselves in a position (for the postseason)."
Guard Ray Nixon, the Badgers' only senior, re-entered the game with 49.3 seconds left after sitting for much of the stretch run. He made four clutch free throws in the final 15 seconds. After making two charity shots to put the final margin on the board with 3.8 seconds left, the Badgers put Gullikson back into the game in his place. Nixon left the court to a standing ovation and the crowd became euphoric as Nixon waved his towel above his head.
"You could tell he got emotional coming out of the game," Tucker said. "Even before the game started it's great to just see that. And to see the things that he's accomplished over four years, from not playing very much the first two years and sticking with it…
"Within teams it's not just about statistics, it's about the family that we build, the friendships that we build as a team. And he cherished that from day one that he came here. It's just great to see him out there contributing."
Wisconsin finished the home portion of its schedule 14-2.