Tall test awaits Gophers in Madison

While Wisconsin has won 24 straight games at the Kohl Center, Minnesota’s Big Ten record this year is 0-7.

by Adam Fink

After blowing a 23-point lead to Michigan State on Wednesday, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team talked about doing a few more little things to get a win.

A defensive stop here or one more basket there was the only difference between moving up in the standings and further burying themselves.

But after losing at Northwestern, which only had two Big Ten wins entering the game Saturday, the Gophers were left scratching their heads to explain what happened.

Some players lashed out at the lack of effort. Others questioned the team’s inability on the road.

After three games in which the Gophers played hard and were in position to win near the end, a double-digit loss in a winnable game was disheartening.

Heading into tonight’s game at Big Ten-leading Wisconsin, Minnesota (8-11, 0-7 Big Ten) is trying to avoid the letdown from losing to the Spartans hang over the team again.

“It took a lot out of them,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “This team was drained. It wasn’t all there on Saturday.”

After losing three consecutive games in which they were tied or led with less than five minutes remaining in regulation, the Gophers felt going to Evanston, Ill., would produce the yet-illusive win.

“Whether you are winning or losing, there is a game along the way that you don’t play well,” guard Adam Boone said. “It just came for us at a terrible time. I look at positives right now and think more about those.”

On Monday, the team spent most of its 40-minute film session reviewing the loss, breaking from the typical routine of looking ahead to the next opponent.

While Monson usually prefers to look forward instead of back, he hopes the Gophers find what is missing – and quickly.

Two areas that immediately jumped to Monson’s attention were the numerous second-half defensive breakdowns and the offense’s willingness to settle for jump shots, especially when they were missing.

Also, Minnesota had proven it can bounce back after disappointing losses. Until Saturday, that is.

“The team has been really resilient,” Monson said. “We got mentally fatigued. Guys didn’t bring it out as well as they should have.”

Breaking free from the letdown at Northwestern will be enough of a challenge. And facing the Badgers won’t make it easier.

Fourteenth-ranked Wisconsin (14-3, 5-1) has won 24 consecutive games at home and sits alone atop the Big Ten standings. The streak is tied for fifth-longest in the nation.

Devin Harris has been the go-to player for the Badgers. The guard averages 17.6 points, 4.9 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game.

Forward Mike Wilkinson is Wisconsin’s inside presence, averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds in Big Ten competition.

Despite the Gophers’ loss at Northwestern and the Badgers’ record at home, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is taking nothing for granted.

“I think (the Gophers) are a few possessions away from having three or four wins in the league,” Ryan said. “There is always the next game, and we happen to be it.”

Minnesota just hopes its next game has the team in position to win near the end.