Gophers loss to Wisconsin hurts chances

Minnesota will wait until Selection Sunday to find out its fate.

by Jace Frederick

There were many bracketologists across the country that treated the Gophers quarterfinal matchup with Wisconsin as a make-or-break game for Minnesota’s NCAA Tournament hopes.

The Gophers now have to hope it wasn’t — otherwise, they’re broke.

Minnesota struggled on both ends of the floor en route to arguably its worst performance of the season in an 83-57 loss to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t have it tonight, and … they made us pay,” Gophers head coach Richard Pitino told reporters. “I just think that we let our offense frustrate us and dictate our defense.”

Now the Gophers, who started the day as the first team out of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi’s projected field, must wait and wonder for the next two days as Selection Sunday approaches.

Was it enough? CBS bracketologist Jerry Palm tweeted that Minnesota doesn’t have much of a chance to make the dance.

“I hope we get into the NCAA Tournament,” Pitino said. “I feel that we played one of the best schedules in the country and that’s normally what they want you to do.”

Minnesota’s resume lacks an influx of big wins and success on the road. A second win of the season against Wisconsin on a neutral court could have helped cure both of those deficiencies.

It was all Wisconsin from the opening tip on Friday night. The Badgers jumped out to a 21-9 lead and sustained it for a 34-22 advantage at the break.

And things only got worse in the final 20 minutes for Minnesota.

The Gophers shot less than 33 percent from the field. Minnesota junior guard Andre Hollins and senior guard Austin Hollins — considered by many to be the faces of the program — combined to shoot 3-for-20 in the game.

“It’s difficult,” Pitino said. “It’s always tough when those guys don’t make shots.”

Wisconsin had no such issues putting the ball in the bucket. The Badgers — who are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance — shot better than 54 percent.

Wisconsin junior guard Ben Brust led the offensive charge with 29 points.

“I thought he did a good job,” Badgers head coach Bo Ryan said. “He’s a hard matchup for some guys defensively because of the way he moves.”

As the score tilted further and further into Wisconsin’s favor in the second half, the Gophers’ tournament chances seemed to dwindle more and more.

It’s tough for the selection committee to admit a team that just lost by 26 points.

“We just hope we can get a chance to get in the tournament, and we’re going to work hard,” said junior guard DeAndre Mathieu, who led the Gophers with 18 points.

Still, whether the Gophers get in or not, Pitino was far from disappointed with what his team has accomplished in his first season at the helm.

“We’re disappointed tonight, but I’m proud of how hard these guys have played this whole year,” he said. “And wherever we play and whatever tournament we play in and whoever we play, we’re going to hope to win because we’re fortunate to be able to play this game.

“We’re lucky, and our guys enjoy it, they love it. I enjoy coaching it, so I’m not going to take that for granted.”