Wisconsin, on the other hand, was fresh off a blowout win over Indiana and was about to get junior Jon Leuer, who missed the last nine games with a broken bone in the left wrist, back, adding another weapon to an already potent arsenal.
Who would have thought Wisconsin would leave Williams Arena with one of its most embarrassing losses of the season?
With no post presence inside, no outside feel and no energy in crunch time, No.14 Wisconsin turned in a lifeless performance, allowing Minnesota to get a signature win on its resume by blowing out the Badgers, 68-52, Thursday night, earning its third straight win in the series in front of a bipartisan crowd of 14,625.
"It's always tough to lose a game in the Big Ten, especially when you are in the heat of a title race," said senior guard Jason Bohannon (18 points). "It's tough. Minnesota came ready to play and we didn't finish the game on our end."
With 6-foot-11 Ralph Sampson III and 6-foot-10 Colton Iverson shutting down the paint, Minnesota (15-10, 6-7 Big Ten) dared the Badgers to beat them from the outside, where the Gophers were second in the conference in defensive field goal percentage (40.2 percent).
After making 54.5 percent of its three-pointers in the first half, the results turned ugly for Wisconsin (19-7, 9-5), as the Badgers shot 26.3 percent (5-of-19) in the second half, allowing Minnesota to pull away by limiting Wisconsin to a season-low 30.5 shooting percentage.
The Gophers shot 47.6 percent for the game, had four players in double figures and were led by junior Blake Hoffarber's 16 points, 12 of which came off the double screen and with Bohannon chasing closely behind.
"It was tough," Bohannon said. "They were setting some good screens with him and he did a good job of using them and making us chase."
Senior Trevon Hughes led all scores with 19 points but called his team's performance Thursday ‘unacceptable,' attribute to a unfocused week of practice.
"Tonight, we played like we did last year," Hughes said. "We had a crappy week of practice and that's all my fault. I was being a goof ball all week.
"I wasn't being a leader. I was just thinking everything was a joke. I was turning the ball over in practice and it showed in the game. I just need to be more aggressive and be a better leader."
Too often did the Badgers settle for the open jump shot, foregoing one of Bo Ryan's cardinal rules of being aggressive underneath, drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line to attempt more shots than their opponents make. It was the exact opposite against Minnesota, as the Gophers made 23 free throws (23-of-28, 82 percent) compared to Wisconsin's seven (5-of-7, 71 percent).
The disparage was a season high and a growing trend, as the Badgers have made fewer free throws than their opponents in six straight games
"The best games we play is when we make more free throws than our opponents attempt," Bohannon said. "We certainly haven't been doing that the last couple of games and that tells us that we need to get the ball in the paint."
Leuer, who played as many minutes (26) as Ryan hoped to play him, was the first player off the bench for Wisconsin, checking in to a standing ovation from the Badgers faithful at 17:38 in the first half and heartfelt boos from the Minnesota fan base, who were obviously still bitter about the junior choosing to play across the border.
They were cheering by the final buzzer, as Leuer struggled to get enough power behind his shot, finishing 2-of-12 from the floor and with four points, tying his season low.
"He'll find his mark," Ryan said of Leuer, who declined to speak to reports after the game. "That wasn't Jon's fault or anything that Jon wasn't trying to do. He's still a good player and still means a lot to us."
Without Leuer's production in the paint, the Badgers were blasted 22-6 on points in the paint, despite grabbing 14 offensive rebounds.
"We aren't getting easy baskets and the easy baskets are the one closest to the hoop," Bohannon said. "We're not getting the ball in there and we are finishing strong when we do get the ball in there. If you want to be successful team, you have to be able to score in the paint."
Leuer wasn't the only Minnesota player on Wisconsin's roster to have a challenging night. Jordan Taylor struggled all night with his shot and controlling the basketball, finishing 1-of-8 from the floor and two turnovers.
Freshman Mike Bruesewitz, playing his first game at Williams Arena, was bullied inside all game, finishing with zero points and fouling out in the final minutes, much to the delight of the Gophers student section that chanted ‘traitor' at him and Taylor throughout.
Bruesewitz did bring some energy, grabbing three offensive rebounds (four overall), but was one of the few that were consistently aggressive on the glass and scoring, as UW's post players combined to only 10 points.
"We needed to get some productivity in there," Ryan said. "Bruesewitz was again all over the place. If he wasn't getting the rebound, he was getting his hand on it. So active. We need more of that."
Wisconsin was within five, 31-26, was Ryan's boiling point finally reached an eruption point in the first half. Ryan had already taken exception to inconsistent fouls on both ends, specifically the lack of contact underneath the Wisconsin basket. When Ryan Evans appeared to have position on Justin Cobbs but was called for a loose ball foul, Ryan's stomping tirade netted him his first technical of the season from official Eric Curry.
Hoffarber made both technical free throws and Cobbs made both free throws in the bonus, extending the lead to 35-26 at halftime.
Bohannon helped the Badgers cut the Badgers halftime deficit down to as little as three, hitting three three-pointers midway through the second half to cut the Minnesota lead to 45-42.
The turning point came when Wisconsin had a chance to cut the lead further but began when Bohannon, Tim Jarmusz and Hughes all had an open look for three go begging, a missed opportunity to cut the lead to 47-45.
That was the last time Wisconsin had any measure of a chance, as the Gophers responded with an 11-0 and held the Badgers without a field goal for seven minutes, 49 seconds.
"We clawed back and get three straight wide-open looks off two offensive rebounds," Ryan said. "If somebody was going to tell me that we go without eight minutes without hitting a shot in there … I just thought we were in great shape to that point, and then we couldn't buy one."
"We got to less this one goal because we still have four games left in the season and the Big Ten Tournament," Hughes said. "I am pretty sure we are making the NCAAs, so we can't put our heads down. I know it sucks. I know it hurts, but things happen like that sometimes."