"I couldn't let it bother my confidence at all, even though I couldn't buy anything [at the free throw line]," Tucker said. "I knew I had to respond, and that's why I tried to do."
And boy, did he ever. Tucker scored 29 points on 10-of-20 shooting (including 3-of-6 from three point range) and fought off a bad free throw shooting night (6-of-13) to carry Wisconsin over Minnesota 75-62, Wednesday night in Williams Arena.
"That's probably why he's the player of the year," Golden Gopher head coach Jim Molinari said. "He does a tremendous job of taking on the challenge."
The win lifted the Badgers' record to 25-2 (11-1 Big Ten) tying the school mark for most victories in a season.
Besides the scoring Tucker also pulled down nine rebounds and tallied a steal. Tucker's shooting left the Gophers at a loss and eventually with a loss.
"I think they're contested shots. I just think he jumps up and hits them," Molinari said. "Sometimes good defense gets beat by talent. I think our defense was fine; his talent won over."
Minnesota (9-17, 3-9 Big Ten) challenged UW early and often, but were never able to pull ahead for long or for good, as the Badgers three times hit trifectas to follow up Golden Gopher treys. One such instance came with just under nine minutes remaining and UW clinging to a two-point lead. With the crowd in a full roar after back-to-back Golden Gopher three-pointers, Tucker delivered a dagger of a three from the right wing to put the lead back to five.
"I think that was the back-breaker," Tucker said. "They were coming back and the crowd was into it and it kind of silenced them Early Tollackson got comfortable.. Those are some of the shots that if you make those and teams are trying to play from behind, those are back-breakers."
The Gophers might not have hit any back-breakers, but they certainly did their best to bruise the UW morale with their unreal three-point shooting.
"They were hitting some shots that were just like ‘Wow', five feet behind the three point line," Tucker said.
Minnesota hit 8-of-12 threes on the evening, including a 4-of-6 performance from Lawrence McKenzie, a former playmate of Wisconsin point guard Kam Taylor. McKenzie finished with 21 points on the game to lead the Gophers.
"You have to know where he is because everybody knows he can score," said Badger head coach Bo Ryan. "If teams are going to make that, they have to beat us like that for 40 minutes," Tucker said. "That's where we have been good. Not letting teams get good shots against us."
While Minnesota was making hay from the outside, they were struggling from inside, missing layups left and right and generally unable to penetrate effectively, hitting on just 32 percent (12-37) of their two point attempts.
The notable exception was Gopher center Spencer Tollackson who was 5-of-9 from the field scoring 13 interior points.
"Early on Tollackson go comfortable and you can't let a guy stay that comfortable," Ryan said.
Wisconsin caught a break when Tollackson fouled out with 8:08 remaining, fouling Tucker on in transition after getting stuffed by, of all people, UW guard Michael Flowers.
With Tollackson gone there wasn't anything to stop the Badgers from eating the Gophers alive from the inside out, and so they did, with Brian Butch (nine points) coming alive for a stretch. "We just stressed to get the ball inside, no matter who was in the game," Taylor said. "We didn't say we want to try and go inside more because he was out. We just wanted to get to the free throw line."
Despite shooting just 28 percent in the first half the Badgers were able to hold a narrow four point edge heading into the break, thanks to outstanding work on the offensive glass and protecting the basketball. While Minnesota shot 41 percent from the field they allowed UW eight offensive rebounds while only grabbing two themselves and lost the turnover battle 9-4. From there on the Badgers simply weathered the storm and eventually took control.
"They were hitting some unbelievable shots," Tucker said. "In the first half that's what you see, you see the best out of every team we play in the first half. We just seem to outlast them."
Printed with permission from the Badger Herald