Tournament bubble close to busted after loss to Badgers

C.J. Spang

MADISON, Wis. – For the second time this season, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team lost a heartbreaker to Wisconsin.

But just like the first time, the Gophers had no one to blame but themselves for their 80-74 loss Sunday at the Kohl Center.

Foul trouble hampered Minnesota (14-11, 5-9 Big Ten) all day and when senior guard Vincent Grier picked up his fourth foul with 7:33 left in the game, the Gophers took a hit from which they could not recover.

Grier played extremely conservative basketball for the next six minutes, and only mustered four of his team-leading 19 points after his fourth foul.

“For whatever reason we were obviously in some foul trouble,” frustrated coach Dan Monson said. “I don’t want to talk about the fouls anymore.”

Minnesota’s guards got a jump on the Badgers (19-8, 9-5 Big Ten) as senior guards Adam Boone, Vince Grier and Maurice Hargrow combined to score the Gophers’ first 13 points, to give Minnesota a 13-7 lead with 14:17 remaining in the first half.

But a 4:28 scoring drought by the Gophers allowed Wisconsin to grab a 17-13 lead with 10:11 left in the half.

The teams played neck-and-neck for the next six minutes and found themselves knotted at 28-28 with 3:50 left in the first frame.

Then with the clock winding down, and Minnesota leading by just two points, Hargrow curled around two screens, cut to the inside of sophomore center Spencer Tollackson’s screen to go in untouched for a finger roll with 5.6 seconds left to quiet the Badgers faithful.

But Wisconsin junior forward Alando Tucker countered with his own buzzer-beating jumper for two of his game-high 22 points to pull Wisconsin within two, 38-36 at halftime.

“I thought the whole team had a tough time containing Alando,” Tollackson said. “He was pretty much doing whatever he wanted.”

Grier opened the second half by scoring the Gophers’ first five points of the half as the two squads traded leads, never separating by more than five points.

Minnesota grabbed its final lead with 5:44 left in the game when Boone hit a three-pointer to pull the team ahead 60-59.

After that three, the Gophers didn’t make a field goal for the next 4:28 while the Badgers continued hitting their free throws to seal the game.

“It’s very disappointing,” Boone said. “We have to learn to play better without fouling.”

Minnesota committed 13 first-half turnovers and another 12 in the second half as Boone and senior forward J’son Stamper fouled out.

Wisconsin buried the Gophers with free throws, hitting 29 of 36 from the charity stripe.

While all those points hurt Minnesota, it was the tentative defense it was forced to play that hurt the most.

“There were so many (fouls) and each of them was a little different,” Boone said. “It definitely makes you a little tentative.”

While the loss puts a serious hurt into Minnesota’s NCAA Tournament at-large bid hopes, the team doesn’t have time to dwell on it as the Gophers host Illinois on Tuesday.

“We’re gonna drive home and watch this tape right when we get back (to Minneapolis),” Tollackson said. “Then we’re going to forget everything about Wisconsin and move right on to Illinois.”