Przybilla keys U’s effort, but Gophers fall short

by Sarah Mitchell

Joel Przybilla makes the Badgers men’s basketball team look small.
Before Saturday’s tipoff, the 7-foot-1 Gophers center looked like a shoo-in to regulate inside. He is, after all, almost a half a foot taller than Wisconsin’s monsters, forwards Mark Vershaw (6-9) and Andy Kowske (6-8).
In a nice change from his most recent Big Ten games, Przybilla had his way for most of the 66-64 loss. The sophomore led all scorers with 17 points.
“(The Badgers) always cause problems for me,” Przybilla said. “A lot of teams have been doubling me in the past couple of weeks, especially them. I’ve just got to take charge when I get the ball.”
But the Badgers (12-10, 4-6 Big Ten) did not double team Przybilla for most of Saturday.
If Minnesota (11-9, 3-7) had been able to feed the ball inside to Przybilla more in the second half, the game might have ended differently.
But the sophomore center was the topic of conversation in the Badgers locker room at halftime. Przybilla had 11 points in the first half and created problems for Wisconsin at both ends of the court. In the second half, Przybilla was better defended.
“At halftime, coach (Dick Bennett) was telling us that (Przybilla) was getting the ball too close to the hoop. So in the second half, we just concentrated on making sure that when he caught the ball, we had him pushed out a little bit, and it worked,” Kowske said. “He didn’t get too many easy looks in the second half.”
Making the switch from man-to-man to zone defense in the second, the Badgers slowed Przybilla offensively. The sophomore had just six points in the second half.
“I never thought they’d play zone because they are such a good man-to-man team,” Przybilla said. “But it worked.”
Still, Przybilla used his leverage on defense. Known for a slow defensive style — almost having to steal their way to victory — the Badgers don’t have much of an offense to begin with.
Not known for great outside shooting either, Wisconsin counts on Kowske and Vershaw inside. Przybilla took that down-low game away.
The Gophers’ center finished the game with nine rebounds (five defensive boards) and six blocks. Those are much improved numbers compared to his performance — which included one block — against the Badgers in January.
“He was more of a presence inside,” Kowske said. “He just did his thing (Saturday). He definitely affected a couple of my shots.”
Przybilla finished the January contest with just five points and nine boards and a little more respect for the Badgers.
But still, Przybilla would have sacrificed his improved personal numbers to have the game end in a Minnesota win.
Which Wisconsin loss hurts more for the young center?
“A loss like this because we were so close,” said Przybilla. “There was so much emotion out there because we wanted to beat them so bad.”

Sarah Mitchell covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].