Border battle carries extra significance for Minnesota

The Gophers need a win to keep hopes alive for an NCAA at-large berth.

C.J. Spang

No matter how the season is going, when Minnesota’s men’s basketball team takes on Wisconsin, it’s a big deal.

Add the fact that the Gophers are in a must-win situation if they want any shot at earning an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament means sparks could fly.

“It’s a rivalry game,” senior guard Adam Boone said. “Every time these two schools play, no matter what sport it is, emotions are going to be high.”

Minnesota (14-10, 5-8 Big Ten) travels to Madison, Wis., for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game at the Kohl Center ‘ where the Badgers are 71-5 over the past five seasons.

Wisconsin (18-8, 8-5 Big Ten) is two games removed from a huge home victory over Ohio State on Feb. 15, in which junior forward Alando Tucker dropped in 27 points and pulled down 16 rebounds, earning him Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

“He’s obviously a very good player who gives us a dimension where he draws attention from the defenses,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “His ability to score in some different ways is always something that will help the whole team.”

Against the Gophers earlier this season, Tucker scored 22 points and grabbed 10 boards to lead the Badgers to the 64-62 win on Jan. 10 at Williams Arena.

But, a two-point victory wasn’t much considering Wisconsin led by as many as 19 points in the first half, as Minnesota made just three field goals in the first half.

“They put a pretty good whooping on us Ö the first time we played them,” sophomore forward Dan Coleman said. “So we’d like to return the favor.”

If the Gophers hope to return the favor and extend their win streak to four games, they will have to continue hitting their free throws.

Statistically the second-worst free throw shooting team in the conference, Minnesota has been horrid from the charity striped at times.

But, in their five Big Ten wins, the Gophers are shooting 76.1 percent from the free-throw line, well above their season average of 66 percent.

“Confidence ‘ I really think that’s what it is,” sophomore Spencer Tollackson said.

That confidence has spread to everyone on the team, not just the starters.

Minnesota’s bench came up huge against Purdue on Wednesday, scoring 33 of 62 points as nine players scored at least two points in the 62-50 win.

“I thought our bench was a huge lift,” coach Dan Monson said. “That’s becoming a good basketball team ‘ every game you got different guys stepping up.”

Even with everything seemingly coming together for the Gophers, they don’t expect anything less than the best from Wisconsin.

“They’re playing very well,” Boone said. “They’re top of the Big Ten and they have an experienced team. We know it’s going to be a challenge for us.”