Missed chances sink Minnesota

The Gophers had a lead in the second half but fell 65-56 at the Kohl Center.

Zach Eisendrath

;MADISON, Wis. – All season long the Minnesota men’s basketball team has been involved in a running documentary on the Big Ten Network titled “Minnesota Basketball: The Journey.”

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michigan
what: Men’s basketball
when: 8 p.m., Thursday
where: Williams Arena

Saturday afternoon’s 65-56 loss to No. 14 Wisconsin in front of 17,190 fans at the Kohl Center in Madison probably could be featured in an episode titled: “Missed Opportunities.”

The Gophers had a familiar feeling in their mouth as they made the short flight back to Minneapolis after watching a five-point second-half lead evaporate and then evolve into a late double-digit Badgers lead on Saturday.

As was the case at home against No. 10 Indiana, and on two occasions against No. 13 Michigan State, Minnesota was on the right track to upsetting a nationally ranked conference foe only to falter down the stretch.

“That’s kind of been our whole deal this whole year,” senior center Spencer Tollackson said. “(We) haven’t really been able to close out the games. I thought we did some things well (Saturday) and some guys stepped up; we just couldn’t finish it.”

In the end, troubling statistics caught up with the Gophers (15-9 overall, 5-7 Big Ten).

Again, Minnesota couldn’t find a way to score against the nation’s second-ranked defense.

The Badgers (21-4, 11-3) held the Gophers to a season-low scoring output in a 63-47 win over Tubby Smith’s squad at Williams Arena on Feb. 3. On Saturday, the Big Ten’s best defensive team limited Minnesota to 33.3 percent shooting from the field.

That trend, mixed with what Smith called “frustration fouls,” lingered all game.

But with the game tied at 45 with less than 8:45 remaining, Minnesota picked the wrong time to go especially cold from the field and commit a plethora of fouls.

While the Gophers couldn’t buy a basket, Wisconsin made its home at the charity stripe.

The Badgers, who made 25 of 33 free throws, finished the game on a 20-11 run, with 13 of their points coming from the foul line.

During that same stretch, Minnesota missed on opportunities to tighten the score. Senior center Spencer Tollackson and senior forward Dan Coleman both missed layups during the final stretch. Freshman guard Al Nolen also missed a pair of free throws.

“It was the turning point, senior forward Dan Coleman, who finished with a team-high 10 points, said of the team’s inability to convert on close shot attempts. “I missed a pivotal close one and those are huge buckets that we needed. At that point in time it would have been a big lift for us.”

“Then we turned around and fouled them and put them on the line without the clock rolling off, so we kind of hurt ourselves.”

When the two border rivals met at the Barn two weeks ago, Minnesota was down 29-10 out of the gate and could never recover.

But Saturday was a different story. The Gophers – despite coming off an embarrassing home loss to Illinois – showed no signs of startled confidence and were in it from the start.

Minnesota took its first lead when freshman shooting guard Blake Hoffarber connected on a three-pointer to make it 17-14. The Gophers led or stayed even with the Badgers the remainder of the first half until a three by Badgers senior center Brian Butch sent Wisconsin to the locker room with a 27-26 lead.

A dunk by Coleman helped the Gophers quickly regain the lead and Minnesota led by as many as five early in the second half after a three by sophomore guard Lawrence Westbrook made it 36-31.

That lead, however, didn’t last long. Back-to-back baskets by sophomore guard Jason Bohannon, who was rumored to be out after rolling his ankle in practice on Friday, put the Badgers up for the first time since half time at 43-41 – a lead that would be tested, but not relinquished.

A three by senior guard Michael Flowers extended Wisconsin’s lead to 52-45 with 5:12 left, but it appeared the Gophers had one more run in them.

A three by Westbrook cut Minnesota’s deficit to 52-48. Then a steal on the ensuing possession by freshman guard Al Nolen gave the Gophers a chance to cut the margin even further, but junior center Jon Williams’ layup attempt on the ensuing possession rolled around the basket and then out.

One of many point blank shots the Gophers would miss as near the end of the game.

“We missed easy shots,” Smith said. “What can I say, we just have to finish.”

Now two games under .500 in the Big Ten, the Gophers’ chances of making the NCAA tournament appear to be slipping away with six games remaining in the conference season.

Still, Tollackson said, Minnesota has much to play for.

“We are definitely playing for pride, Tollackson said. We are playing for a better seed in the Big Ten Tournament. And we still think we are going to the post season we just don’t know where that is yet.”