Men’s hoops tripped up by first-place Badgers 69-61

by Anthony Maggio

Sunday was a golden opportunity for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team. With a victory, the Gophers would’ve moved into a third place tie in the Big Ten, and needed only one more conference win to all but clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Minnesota (16-9, 8-6 Big Ten) failed to capitalize on countless chances and lost to Big Ten leader Wisconsin 69-61. The Gophers now sit tied for fifth in the conference with Michigan State, while precariously sitting on the tournament bubble.

“It’s a heartbreaker when you don’t win, especially at your house, especially when it’s your last game,” senior Jerry Holman said. “It hurts.”

Minnesota, now on a two-game skid, never led in the contest, but gave itself chances late in the game.

With 1:45 to play, Rick Rickert hit a jumper to pull the Gophers within two.

After Wisconsin’s Devin Harris made one of two free throws, Minnesota’s Kevin Burleson drove to the basket with just under 1:30 to play.

Burleson looked to have an easy lay-in, but had the ball tipped on its way to the hoop.

“I definitely thought that was goaltending,” Burleson said. “But it was in the refs’ hands so I can’t say anything about that.”

Added Monson: “(The officials) didn’t say (Wisconsin) didn’t (goaltend), they just said they didn’t see it, which to me is too bad. I’m not sure if it was or not, but you have to see it.”

Rickert tipped a pass on the Badgers’ ensuing possession, giving Maurice Hargrow a fast break. Hargrow was fouled on his dunk attempt, but hit only one of two free throws.

It was the first and only free throw Minnesota hit all game.

The Gophers shot 1-of-5 from the line overall. Wisconsin finished 18-of-21 from the charity stripe.

“The amazing thing to me is that they never foul in there,” Monson said. “And it’s not just this game. They lead the country I think in not fouling. I don’t know how they do it. We went to Rick virtually every possession and he doesn’t shoot a free throw.”

Down only two, Minnesota still had a chance. After the Badgers milked the shot clock, Burleson blocked Freddie Owens’ three-point attempt. But Owens hustled down the rebound and hit a 16-footer as the shot clock expired.

Rickert missed a three at the other end, sealing the Gophers’ fate.

“Rick kept us in it,” Monson said. “But we didn’t make the plays we needed to down the stretch.”

Rickert finished with a game-high 22 points. He scored nine of Minnesota’s final 12.

But even Rickert’s heroics couldn’t overcome Wisconsin’s hot start. The Badgers hit their first five shots, and finished a scorching 61.9 percent from the floor in the first half.

Wisconsin (21-6, 11-4) cooled off in the second half, hitting only eight shots. But four were from the three-point line, where the Badgers shot 42.9 percent from for the game.

Kirk Penney led Wisconsin with 16 points, going 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. The Badgers have won five straight over Minnesota, and seven of the last eight contests.

The Gophers now face their quickest turnaround of the season, as they travel to Indiana for a Tuesday night game with the Hoosiers. A loss would put Minnesota’s NCAA tournament hopes in even further jeopardy.

“We’ve got not just a game in 48 hours, but we’ve got to go on the road,” Monson said. “I don’t know if you’ve checked or not, but we’ve struggled sometimes doing that.”

Anthony Maggio covers men’s basketball and

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