Loss puts Gophers on the bubble

Published 4:13pm Saturday, March 15, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Minnesota’s weekend just got a whole lot more stressful.

Instead of preparing for Saturday’s semifinals, the Golden Gophers will spend Saturday and Sunday poring over game film, trying to fix what went wrong in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals and anxiously wait to see if they’ve done enough to make the NCAA tournament.

They don’t have a choice after Friday night’s exit from the Big Ten tournament.

Ben Brust scored a career-high 29 points, Frank Kaminsky grabbed 12 rebounds the Badgers’ staunch defense got the Golden Gophers completely out of whack as Wisconsin ran away with an 83-57 victory.

“We just hope we get a chance to get in the tournament,” said DeAndre Mathieu, who had 18 points for Minnesota. “Regardless of whether we’re playing in the NIT next week or the NCAA tournament, we’re going to work hard and try to make a run.”

Joey King was the only other player to reach double figures for Minnesota (20-13). He finished with 14 points.

After picking up win No. 20 on Thursday, coach Richard Pitino sounded confident about his team’s chances for one of the 36 at-large bids.

His stance changed slightly after Friday night’s debacle.

“Listen, I hope we get into the NCAA tournament. I feel that we played one of the best schedules in the country, and that’s normally what they want you to do,” Pitino said. “But with that being said, whatever tournament we are in — we’re disappointed tonight — but I’m proud of how hard these guys have played this whole year.”

The Badgers wanted to send a message.

They showed up in new practice shirts, which

 

read “The Badger Way.” Then they went out and showed everyone what that means with an aggressive, disciplined and devastating game.

“The epitome of the Badger Way would be Ben and Josh (Gasser),” Nigel Hayes explained. “They’re always hustling, they never take plays off, as Coach (Bo) Ryan said, they put their face on the ball, grinding it out, no easy possessions for the other team. I feel like when all of us play games together like we did today, we get the results that we got today.”

And it made a difference.

It was the largest victory margin in the first two days of this year’s tourney.

The second-seeded Badgers aren’t finished yet, either.

Wisconsin (26-6) came to Indianapolis intent on not allowing a border-state rival to strengthen its case for one of the NCAA’s 36 at-large bids at the Badgers’ expense. They figured they did enough of that with an 81-68 loss in January, the first of this season’s three meetings. They also wanted to give Ryan his 700th career win.

Mission accomplished.

Wisconsin shot 54.5 percent from the field, made 10 of 24 3-pointers, outscored the Gophers’ bench 38-12 and limited Minnesota to 32.8 percent shooting.

Brust, the only senior starter, was the leader of a pack that has won nine of its last 10. He went 8 of 15 from the field, 4 of 10 on 3s and had three steals, three rebounds and two assists before getting a well-deserved early exit.

“We just came out and some things started falling and tried to play with energy throughout the whole game,” Brust said.

Brust had plenty of help, too.

Hayes, the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year, was 6 of 9 from the field, had 15 points and six rebounds. Freshman Bronson Koenig made all five of his shots, including four 3s, to finish with 14. All-conference forward Sam Dekker had 10 points and four rebounds.

Two more wins and a third Big Ten tourney title might even be enough to vault Wisconsin into a No. 1 seed in the 68-team field, though Ryan isn’t even discussing that possibility.

“I never answer anything about seeds,” Ryan said. “Sunflower seeds I used when I played baseball, I used to chew them. That’s the only seeds I know anything about.”

Last year’s Big Ten runner-up wasted no time taking control.

Brust started a 14-2 first-half run with a layup, and when it ended with 9:02 to go, the Badgers led 21-9.

Minnesota climbed back within 26-22 late in the half, but the Badgers scored the last eight points to make it 34-22.

The script didn’t change much in the second half.

After the Gophers scored six straight to cut the lead to eight, the Badgers went on a 14-5 spurt to extend the lead to 50-33. The Gophers never got closer than 10 the rest of the night.

“They did a good job of being aggressive and being smart with what they were doing,” Ryan said. “They made smart plays when they were in there, and Sam finished well and Bronson created some good shots for himself and knocked them down. It kind of just spreads through all of us.”

Westminster