Gophers hold on to beat Badgers

Minnesota had to combat a Wisconsin comeback, but later pulled ahead for a 68-52 win.

Gophers hold on to beat Badgers

Marco LaNave

It wasnâÄôt much of a surprise that Minnesota was playing Wisconsin close through most of the menâÄôs basketball game at Williams Arena on Thursday night. The Gophers had taken and squandered sizable leads against conference opponents in the last month, but at home against the No. 14 Badgers, they finally responded to an opposing comeback with a run of their own. After their lead was trimmed to 45-42 with less than 10 minutes remaining, the Gophers went on a 13-0 run to pull away for a 68-52 victory. âÄúI thought our guys did a fantastic job of maintaining their poise throughout the game,âÄù Gophers head coach Tubby Smith said. âÄúTonight we saw some real solidarity, some real teamwork.âÄù Four Gophers scored in double figures and had at least four rebounds apiece, led by junior guard Blake HoffarberâÄôs 16 points and nine rebounds. Wisconsin (19-7, 9-5 Big Ten) took a 6-0 lead with two 3-pointers in the first two minutes. The Gophers (15-10, 6-7) responded with four of their own, including two by Hoffarber as part of a 14-2 run. Wisconsin rallied to tie the game, but Gophers sophomore center Colton Iverson made a short basket and the subsequent free throw to make it 19-16 with 9:02 remaining in the half. Iverson had five points and seven rebounds while playing 29 minutes, the second-highest total of his career. Smith said he was glad to see IversonâÄôs success in combination with fellow sophomore center Ralph Sampson III, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. âÄúBoth Ralph and Colton showed a lot of patience, a lot of poise,âÄù Smith said. âÄúItâÄôs what weâÄôve been expecting from these young men for some time.âÄù Sampson, Iverson, Hoffarber and senior forward Damian Johnson combined to match WisconsinâÄôs 28 total rebounds. The Gophers matched their best rebounding margin of the season with a 41-28 advantage over the Badgers. Minnesota never appeared to be at a physical disadvantage against Wisconsin, which committed 24 fouls to the GophersâÄô 11. Four personal fouls and one technical on the BadgersâÄô bench in the final 2:39 of the first half led to eight straight Minnesota points from free throws. The Gophers held a 35-26 halftime lead after shooting 58 percent from the field in the first half. Minnesota extended its lead to 13 points âÄî the same margin the Gophers had blown in losses to Michigan State and Northwestern in the last four weeks âÄî with 18:26 remaining in the second half. The same story seemed to be writing itself again when Wisconsin used an 11-2 run in a four-minute span to close the lead to four. Badgers guard Jason Bohannon hit his teamâÄôs ninth 3-pointer of the game to make it 45-42 with 9:40 remaining. âÄúI just thought we were in great shape to that point,âÄù Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. Where the Gophers had struggled to find anyone to carry the team in tight situations, they got better execution in the final 10 minutes of ThursdayâÄôs game. Minnesota held Wisconsin scoreless for a 7:49 stretch, and five different Gophers scored as part of a 13-0 run. âÄúWe didnâÄôt get rattled, we didnâÄôt try to force anything,âÄù Johnson said. âÄúWe didnâÄôt let anyone get down on themselves.âÄù Johnson finished with 11 points and four rebounds, while sophomore guard Devoe Joseph had 10 points, five assists and five rebounds. Senior guard Lawrence Westbrook, who scored 44 points in two games against Wisconsin last season, played 22 minutes but didnâÄôt score until he made eight free throws in the final 1:16. Minnesota made 23-of-28 free throws as a team, while Wisconsin made five of seven and shot only 31 percent from the field. The Gophers will have little time to enjoy their first victory over a ranked opponent since November. They host Indiana at 7 p.m. Saturday with a chance to avenge an 81-78 overtime loss to the Hoosiers in Bloomington, Ind., on Jan. 17. Joseph said ThursdayâÄôs win can be the start of a run in the final five games of the Big Ten regular season. âÄúIt meant a lot to us, just to come out and get a win,âÄù Joseph said. âÄúHopefully we can lean on this and keep it going, starting on Saturday.âÄù