Nothing seemed to be particularly wrong against Minnesota, other than the Badger's sloppy shooting and fouling. But considering the Gophers shot an even worse percentage and committed more personal fouls for much of the game, no excuses could really explain the dreadful start.
"We tried to add the fouls up on them, and if people are aggressive you have to try and get to the line, and we did," said coach Bo Ryan. "Sometimes that takes 35 minutes, 40 minutes. Probably doesn't happen in the first ten minutes."
Several games this year for Wisconsin have been close, too close, against teams that really aren't in their class such as Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Valparaiso and Northwestern.
The sluggishness shown against Minnesota might have come from an emotional win at Indiana, who along with Kelvin Sampson's recruiting violations has become a vacuum for drama. Or maybe it came from overconfidence after their easy 63-47 win at Minnesota earlier in the year.
No matter the reason, someone had to light a fire under Wisconsin. Fortunately for Minnesota, they apparently played with much more emotion the second time around.
"I thought we came ready to play today, unlike we did Minneapolis," said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. "We passed the ball better and we took care of the ball better."
The first half can easily sum up what took place with a just few statistics – the Badgers shot 8-for-22 and committed nine personal fouls. Those certainly contributed to marginal one point lead at halftime against a team with a 5-6 conference record.
What took place against Minnesota was an example of a team not pushing their will on the other team. The Gophers shouldn't have kept the game as close as it was for so long, almost until the last six or seven minutes. The Badgers had no clear top performer and head coach Bo Ryan was constantly shouting at the refs about the high amount of fouls called and his own team about picking up the pace.
"I'd like to say it was coaching [for showing more conviction in the second half], but we stuck to what we were doing and had better results," said Ryan. "You just have to keep grinding and that's exactly what type of game it was."
The turnaround took place with just under nine minutes remaining and the game tied at 45. At this point, it was up to the players to show more desire to pull the win out in front of supportive home crowd.
Not that the fans hadn't been waiting all day for an explosion to take place. The crowd was supporting them the whole way, cheering when they made a play and booing when they felt the refs had wronged their team.
The first big emotional lift took place when Michael Flowers hit a three-pointer to get the fans off their seat. After Wisconsin took a 52-45 lead, Minnesota was forced to call a timeout after a rather emotionless first 35 minutes.
"I think the key all season is to just stay calm," said Brian Butch. "We believe in each other and what wee can do. We knew that people were going to make plays and execute."
For the next few minutes, Wisconsin continued to get rebounds and make their free throws. Not exactly a burst of emotion, but they consistently made Minnesota pay for their mistakes, which came mostly on missed three-pointers.
Another passionate display took place when Minnesota shot a three- pointer with three minutes left that would have put them a little bit closer. Brian Butch grabs a rebound off a missed Minnesota three- pointer, gets fouled and makes his free throws.
"I think of [our high free throw attempts] come from just how we play," said Butch. "They try and defend in different ways, but if you have a lot of versatility out on the floor, it's tough to defend."
If free throws are the biggest moments of excitement for a team ranked 13th in the country, there appears to be a problem. In fact, the most exciting play of the game came when Marcus Landry threw down a ferocious dunk with less than a minute remaining.
Really, Wisconsin never claimed the Kohl Center as their territory. To stay close against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center should mean another team would have to play their rears off. Minnesota didn't do that and Wisconsin let them stay close.
After the 65-56 win, it would be reasonable to conclude that Minnesota lost the game more than Wisconsin won the game. Yet, Wisconsin claims the struggle was the result of a lot of hard work put in already.
"It's a Big Ten Conference game, and it's a typical one. You just keep on trying to get the loose balls and easy buckets," said Butch. "You just keep grinding it out. It's February and our bodies are starting to get a little hurt."