The Badgers came in to the Border Battle rivalry game with Minnesota riding a 9-game win streak, with Sam Dekker red hot over the last three contests. Wisconsin didn’t need him on Saturday, pushing its win streak to 10 games with a 63-53 win over the Gophers.
After putting up 53 points in the last three games, Dekker had only five points against Minnesota. Luckily the rest of the Badgers came to play in a major way.
Starting point guard Bronson Koenig, along with Frank Kaminsky were the catalysts in this contest, combining for 37 of UW’s 63 points on the day.
Koenig had 16 points, while Kaminsky used a huge first half to put up 21 points of his own. The two combined to shoot 13 of23 from the field on the day. Kaminsky’s 21 points gave him 20-plus points for the 10th time this season and seventh in Big Ten play alone.
They weren’t the only ones to do big things though, as Josh Gasser became a member of a very exclusive club at UW.
Josh Gasser put up seven points, with a jumper with 1:15 remaining in the first half putting him in the Wisconsin record book forever.
With that basket Gasser hit the 1,000-point mark and joined Michael Finley as the only Badger players with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 250 assists in a career. He also extended his lead in career starts, moving to 131 starts in this contest.
Kaminsky and Koenig keyed UW’s first half, putting up 12 and 10 points respectively. The duo also shot 8 of 12 from the field as the Badgers took a 35-27 lead in the half.
Kaminsky did most of his damage with his back to the basket, pounding the ball and getting to the rim with a variety of ball fakes, spin moves and drop steps. Kaminsky’s lone miss came with a ball that rolled around the rim and bounced out, otherwise he did impressive work against both Maurice Walker and Elliot Eliason from Minnesota.
However, not everything was beautiful, as the Badgers nearly gave up a seven-point lead in the middle of the first half. It was a sequence that showed Wisconsin’s biggest issue going forward — bench production.
The lack of production became evident as the Badgers rotated to Duje Dukan, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter. Almost immediately the Badgers’ decent lead became a 1-point, 22-21, advantage.
Wisconsin will get help in strengthening the bench when Traevon Jackson returns to the lineup and Koenig comes off the bench once again. Still, the complete collapse of Dukan on the offensive end of the floor and Brown’s continued struggles shooting the ball aren’t going to help the Badgers much.
Minnesota finished the game with a 24-4 advantage in points off the bench, a number not surprising given the lack of production, but something that has to worry the Badgers going in to big games down the stretch.
Still, the Badgers rotated back to the starters following that bad spell and the lead was safe once again.
Unlike Wednesday’s game against Penn State, the Badgers managed to not go in to an extended offensive drought, and it kept them moving forward in this game.
UW shot 54.2 percent from the field (13-of-24) in the first half, but got things done later in the half to slow down an equally hot Minnesota offense. At one point the Gophers were hitting over 60 percent, but eventually cooled off to 46.4 percent from the field (13-of-28).
It also helped that the Badgers didn’t put the Gophers at the free throw line and went 6 of 8 from the line themselves in the first half.
UW continued to play smart defense in the second half, with Minnesota shooting just one free throw the entire game. It led to a 10-point advantage for UW on free throws alone, a good thing considering Minnesota had two more made field goals than the Badgers.
Nigel Hayes hit a jumper early in the second half to push Wisconsin’s lead to double digits for the first time in the game, and it appeared UW would cruise to victory. However, Minnesota would never let the game get out of hand, using three 11-point performances (Nate Mason, DeAndre Mathieu and Carlos Morris) to keep within striking distance.
However, Wisconsin always kept the Gophers an arm’s length away and never led by less than eight points in the final half of the contest.
The formula of not turning the ball over, forcing turnovers and shooting more free throws than the opponent worked wonders in the second half. UW forced 11 turnovers, had only eight of its own and committed just seven fouls on the day.
At 25-2 overall the Badgers continue to tie for the best start in program history along with the 2006-07 season. However, the 13-1 start to Big Ten play marks the best start to Big Ten play in program history.
Those marks are about to get a serious test though, as Wisconsin will travel to No. 16 Maryland on Tuesday night. A win would clinch the Big Ten regular season championship for the Badgers.