Pregame: Gophers’ wings don’t match up well with Badgers

Charlie Armitz

The Gophers branded their early-season success on a balanced starting lineup. Players took turns leading the team in scoring, and coach Tubby Smith had confidence any of his starters could have a big night.

That confidence left the team weeks ago, and regaining it against Wisconsin on Thursday will be especially tough.

Only two Gophers starters have played well historically against the Badgers — point guard Andre Hollins and forward/center Trevor Mbakwe. (It's three if you count center Elliott Eliason, who could start tonight in place of an injured Rodney Williams or a struggling Joe Coleman.) The three wing players — Williams, Coleman and Austin Hollins — have combined to shoot 18-for-70 (26 percent) against Wisconsin.

Gophers career stats vs. Wisconsin

The good:
Andre Hollins: 19.3 ppg (43% FG, 59% 3PT), 0.7 apg
Mbakwe: 9.5 ppg (55% FG), 10.5 rpg
Eliason: 2.7 pts (4-5 FG), 2.0 reb

The bad:
Williams: 8.0 ppg (33% FG), 4.0 rpg
Coleman: 1.0 ppg (1-13 FG)
Austin Hollins: 3.0 ppg (24% FG, 0-7 3PT), 1.5 apg

Why such a disparity? Because Wisconsin plays much slower and more physical than other Gophers opponents. The Gophers' wings love to run, but they struggle in half-court games that force them to settle for jump shots and draw fouls. Hollins plays that way too, but he can make tough shots when he's hot. Mbakwe and Eliason like to get in the trenches and don't mind playing slow.

How will this translate into tonight? If the Gophers push the pace — which they've rarely done against Bo Ryan's Badgers — they'll win. If not, they may need to rely on Hollins' shooting and late-game execution. Hollins has shot 10-for-35 in his last three games. The Gophers, who have lost six of their last eight, are 2-5 in games decided by eight points or less.