MADISON, WIS. — …

Michael Dougherty

MADISON, WIS. — Eighty-four seconds. For all intents and purposes, the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 85-53 loss to Wisconsin was over in the first 84 seconds.
Although Minnesota was only down 4-0, coach Dan Monson called what might have been the quickest timeout in history to settle down his team that already missed two shots and turned the ball over once.
If you had listened closely during that timeout, you probably could’ve heard the fat lady warming up underneath the howling of Monson and the blaring of the Badgers band.
“They already had like three offensive rebounds and already had beat us to like two or three loose balls,” a dumbfounded Monson said of the swarming Badgers, who improved to 10-8, 2-4 Big Ten.
Then he shook his head a little bit, perhaps to shake the cobwebs loose after spending the better part of two hours coaching a team that was out of the game.
“They were physically stronger and set screens and executed their offense, and we didn’t have an answer,” he said. “They broke us down, and then we broke down mentally. It snowballed on us, and that’s the most disappointing thing for me was how they dominated us as competitors.”
Monson’s postgame comments were brief and subdued, but his description of Wisconsin could be summarized with one word: domination.
Coach Dick Bennett’s team forced Minnesota (10-4, 2-4) into a season-high 23 turnovers and had 15 steals, the third most in school history. The 85 points were the most in conference play for Wisconsin since 1995.
Badgers junior guard Mike Kelley went a perfect 7-of-7 from the field, scored 16 points and had six steals. Like the rest of his teammates, he was a step faster, thought a half-second quicker and played twice as hard as anybody wearing maroon and gold.
“He’s real smart, defensively,” Gophers guard Kevin Burleson said. “He’s not real quick. He just uses his hands so smart, and when you put the ball out, he always knows where you’re going to put it. It’s great timing and great anticipation.”
It was back-to-back layups by Kelley that provided the quick 4-0 lead, and later it was three steals during a 16-0 run that put Wisconsin up 28-6 and essentially sealed the deal.
During the 16-0 run, Minnesota missed three shots and turned the ball over eight times. Kelley and fellow starting guard Jon Bryant, from Plymouth, Minn., combined for 29 points, eight steals and two turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Gophers starting backcourt of Burleson and Terrance Simmons never scored. They went 0-for-8, turned the ball over six times and had only one assist.
Kelley said the plan going into the game was to shut down the inside play of center Joel Przybilla and forwards Dusty Rychart and John-Blair Bickerstaff.
“Their post guys are real crafty, so we were going to make them beat us from the outside, so we packed the lane,” Kelley said. “They weren’t so hot from the outside, and we didn’t have to be as concerned about the outside shot.”
Przybilla’s string of five straight double-doubles ended against Wisconsin — he scored five points and grabbed nine boards. Even worse, the sophomore turned the ball over six times and was pounded on by Badgers big men Andy Kowske and Mark Vershaw.
Monson said the duo would push Przybilla from under the hoop, which forced him to start the offense out of position.
“He was getting posted up at about 10 feet (away from the basket),” Monson said. “He’s got to get the ball down low where he can be successful. Physically, he got pushed out to where he has difficulty scoring.”
Said Bickerstaff: “They bumped him early and wouldn’t let him get good post position. Plus, they would send a man at him right away. Most teams double him with another guard, but they sent two bigs (big men) at him and made it more difficult to split the double team or make passes over them.”
After a 2-1 start in conference play, three straight losses to Indiana, Purdue and Wisconsin have the Gophers reeling. They travel to Penn State on Wednesday for a tilt with the ever-improving Lions, before conference get-well card Northwestern comes to town Saturday.
“We’re not playing our best game right now,” Burleson said. “But we can’t lose confidence because it’s a long season, and we’ve got 10 more games with a lot of them on the road.”

Michael Dougherty covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]