Varmints Exterminated

Wisconsin does their best Carl Spackler impression by shutting down the Gophers with one of their best defensive performances of the season, holding Minnesota to only 45 points in a 23-point victory.

MADISON - With the rival Gophers in-town for the Big Ten opener, all predictions and pre-conceived notions could easily be tarnished. After all, these two schools do highly dislike one another.

Although Minnesota put up an early scare, Michael Flowers windmill dunk ignited the crowd and lit a fire under the Badgers, as Wisconsin (15-1, 1-0 Big Ten) ripped off a 25-3 run to win their conference opener 68-45 over their neighbors to the north.

With Wisconsin starters starting a combined 270 games in their career compared to only 118 for Minnesota (7-9, 1-1 Big Ten), the Badgers were thought to breeze through this game and prepare for their upcoming match up against sixth-ranked Ohio State.

Through the first eight minutes, Wisconsin's play looked like they were unprepared. The Badgers started the game shooting 2-for-12 against Minnesota and the Gophers took advantage. Ten quick points from juniors Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson saw Minnesota quickly jump out to a seven-point lead through the game's first eight minutes.

Then the roof caved in on the Gophers.

With Minnesota point guard Lawrence McKenzie attempting to cross-over Michael Flowers, Flowers read the move perfectly, poked the ball away from McKenzie and went in for the wide-open slam. Thinking Flowers was going to go for the lay-up, Minnesota's Jonathan Williams went hard for the ball. The end result was a dunk by Flowers and an intentional foul by Williams.

"That dunk and intentional foul was a play that gave them a lot of energy," Minnesota interim head coach Jim Molinari said. "There's a point in every game when a team seizes control and we let the game get away."

"You start slow because the other team gets more points than you do," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "Michael Flowers made a play off a hustle opportunity. You still have to play after that and they did."

Wisconsin never looked back, outscoring Minnesota 31-7 the rest of the half and simultaneously putting the game out of reach.

"We didn't play well, but we give Wisconsin credit," Molinari said. "Bo has done a phenomenal job here. They are a very good team, very balanced and have strength inside. They were even better than I saw on tape. So, we give them credit for this beating."

Whatever plagued the Badgers early in terms of shooting didn't faze them after Flowers' slam. Wisconsin finished the half by shooting 70 percent (14-for-20) and a respectable 46.7 for the first half. For the game, the Badgers shot 42.9 percent from the floor.

Wisconsin was also far more aggressive to the hoop than the Gophers, going to the line 10 more times than Minnesota and making nine more free throws.

"I think we kind of lost our identity [by] playing soft in the first half," Molinari said.

Following up his 29-point performance at Georgia, senior Alando Tucker scored 14 to lead the Badgers in scoring for the 11th time. His 14 points came on 6-for-17 from the floor, including another alley-oop dunk from his senior running mate and Minneapolis native Kammron Taylor.

Taylor finished the game with 13 points, his seventh straight game in double figures and 10th of his last 11.

Flowers finished with 11 points, his fifth double-figure performance of the season. He also contributed with a team-high four assists.

"Everybody was pretty stagnate in the game and I wanted to go out there and be a spark," Flowers said.

Wisconsin also turned in another solid performance defensively, holding the Gophers to 21-points below their season scoring average. Wisconsin forced 15 turnovers, which translated into 15 Badger points.

"[Defense] is one of the things we have been preaching since the start of practice," Tucker said. "We're getting better and learning a lot faster."

With the win, Wisconsin has now won 11 straight games, their longest streak since 1993-94, and improves the Badgers to an even 51-51 in Big Ten conference openers.

The Badgers now sets their sights on the Buckeyes, who are coming off a dominating road win at Illinois. Coach Ryan, who didn't mention Ohio State by name when fielding questions about the upcoming contest, knows that the Badgers improvement defensively will be put to the test against the Buckeyes, who have the top scoring offense in the Big Ten.

"We'll see defensively if we are getting better [after] the next one. That's for sure," Ryan said. "They are on a mission and we are on a mission."

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