Gophers beat No. 9 Badgers

Published 9:25 am Thursday, January 23, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS — DeAndre Mathieu and Mo Walker each scored 18 points, an outside-inside combination that pushed Minnesota to an 81-68 victory Wednesday night over No. 9 Wisconsin, the Badgers’ third straight loss.

Malik Smith added 14 points, including the exclamatory, shot-clock beating 3-pointer with 39 seconds left. Austin Hollins had 11 points and four steals for the Golden Gophers (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten). Walker grabbed nine rebounds, and Mathieu went 8 for 13 from the floor.

Sam Dekker led the Badgers (16-3, 3-3) with 20 points and six rebounds. Nigel Hayes added 12 points, and Frank Kaminsky and Josh Gasser had nine points apiece.

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The fastest player on the court, Mathieu can make up for his 5-foot-9 frame with a deftly effective, floating, mid-range jump shot. He flipped in two of them on back-to-back possessions, the second one with one hand, sandwiched around a steal by the Gophers to push their lead to 61-49.

A few minutes later, the old arena rocked as loudly as it had all season when Hollins soared over the defense to drop in a one-handed slam from the baseline and draw a foul with 5:54 left. The three-point play put Minnesota in front 66-54.

The conference’s leading 3-point shooting team looked defeated down the stretch, unable to get that perimeter game going. The Badgers finished 5 for 20 from behind the arc, and they didn’t fare any better around the basket. Letting the Gophers do almost whatever they wanted inside, whether throwback post moves or drive-and-dish layups, the Badgers were outscored 48-24 in the paint.

Minnesota was dealt a potentially devastating setback only 16 seconds into the game when Andre Hollins rolled his left ankle on the landing after swishing a jumper on the opening possession. The junior shooting guard, who was averaging 16.2 points, did not return.

The early equalizer for Minnesota was two quick fouls on the 7-foot Kaminsky, whose absence left Wisconsin at a serious size disadvantage underneath. With just 2:32 elapsed, Kaminsky, the team’s second-leading scorer and the conference’s top 3-point shooter at 46.8 percent coming into the game, was on the bench.

Walker took full advantage, powering his way past Hayes, Vitto Brown or anyone else assigned to stop the 6-foot-10, 250-pound junior. Walker, who lost more than 20 percent of that weight over the spring and summer so he could keep up with coach Richard Pitino’s fast-break style and stay on the team, surpassed his career high in scoring less than 10 minutes into the first half. That all came on dunks, layups and spin moves.

The Badgers didn’t shoot nearly as well as they have all season, but they made enough of their open opportunities to stay within striking distance. Freshman Bronson Koenig knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to cut Minnesota’s lead to 30-28 late in the first half before a slam by Walker and a hook shot by Joey King gave the Gophers a bigger cushion at the break.

Last season, these teams split the series, scoring a mere 200 points combined in 85 minutes. Minnesota won in overtime at home 58-53, and Wisconsin won 45-44 on its own court. This is a different Badgers team, though, by far the most productive offense of coach Bo Ryan’s 13 stellar seasons.

Ranked as high as fourth in The Associated Press poll last week, the Badgers started a program-best 16-0 before hitting a snag last week in this strong-as-ever league. The last time they scored as many points per game (75.8 entering the night) as they have been averaging this winter, future NBA star Michael Finley was in a Wisconsin uniform.

Ryan fell to 16-6 against Minnesota. This is only his fifth losing streak of three games or more since arriving at Wisconsin in 2001. The last one came two years ago.

The Gophers will have to be careful about a letdown Sunday at Nebraska, where Ohio State just lost, but this marked the end of a grueling stretch that — judged by AP rankings — was the toughest four-game set they’ve faced since 1987. That year, they lost all four against top 15 foes. This time, they split.