Another lead blown, losing streak hits 6

Minnesota led by 10 points late in the first half but couldn’t score when needed.

Minnesota guard Austin Hollins attempts a basket during a game against Michigan State on Wednesday at Williams Arena.

Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

Minnesota guard Austin Hollins attempts a basket during a game against Michigan State on Wednesday at Williams Arena.

Charlie Armitz

The Gophers played with fire all night long against the Badgers, and in the end, it cost them.

Minnesota lost its sixth consecutive game Tuesday in a 52-45 defeat to No. 14 Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.

Like many of the Gophers’ games against ranked conference opponents, this one presented Minnesota with many opportunities to steal a win.

But a 10-point first-half lead lasted all of six minutes for the Gophers, and after that, the result never seemed in doubt.

Minnesota shot a season-low 24 percent from the field against the Big Ten’s top defensive team, making 11 field goals on just three assists.

Two games earlier, the Gophers had shot 31 percent from the field — also a season-low at the time — in a 69-50 home loss to then-No. 23 Indiana.

The loss to the Hoosiers also featured spells of poor hustle and effort. That wasn’t the case Tuesday, as the Gophers played with high energy throughout the game in spite of their poor shooting.

Wisconsin matched Minnesota miss-for-miss in the first half, shooting 19 percent.

The Gophers’ Ralph Sampson III had as many blocks — four — as the Badgers had field goals in the opening frame.

But Wisconsin kept itself within striking distance by playing solid defense, avoiding turnovers and getting to the free throw line.

The Badgers drew 24 fouls in a tightly officiated game — a staple of lead referee Ed Hightower — that resulted in both head coaches receiving technical fouls.

Tubby Smith’s technical foul nine minutes into the second half allowed the Badgers to regain the lead and the momentum. Jordan Taylor hit a pair of technical foul free throws to put Wisconsin up 29-27 and made a 3-pointer 26 seconds later to extend the lead to five points.

When the bleeding finally stopped for the Gophers, Wisconsin had turned a seven-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead with a 21-7 run to open the second half.

The Badgers have made a habit of holding leads with their defense, and Tuesday was no exception, as they maintained at least a four-point lead the rest of the game.

Taylor had 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and made 11 of 12 free throws.

Meanwhile, Minnesota looked content to run isolation plays for point guard Andre Hollins while running the shot clock down to the last 10 seconds on nearly every possession.

The strategy forced the Gophers into difficult shots on several possessions, but it also allowed Minnesota to keep its lead by slowing the game down.

Hollins led Minnesota with 18 points but shot just 3-for-12 from the field and had no assists. He scored just five points in the second half.

Starting in place of the injured Julian Welch, the freshman also struggled to distribute the ball on offense. Veteran forwards Rodney Williams and Sampson combined to grab nine offensive rebounds but rarely found themselves open in halfcourt sets.

Minnesota’s three wing players — Austin Hollins, Joe Coleman and Chip Armelin — were also forced into difficult attempts, and they combined to shoot just 1-for-11 from the field.

Sampson finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five blocks, and he reached 1,000 career points with a pair of free throws midway through the second half.