Gophers fall to No. 5 Wisconsin

The men’s basketball team was outmatched on Saturday in a 63-53 road loss to the Badgers.

Minnesota's Carlos Morris shoots the ball during the first half against the Badgers on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

Amanda Snyder

Minnesota’s Carlos Morris shoots the ball during the first half against the Badgers on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

Jack Satzinger

MADISON, Wis. – As the second half of Minnesota’s game at No. 5 Wisconsin began Saturday, fans in the Badgers student section started chanting.

“N-I-T. N-I-T. N-I-T,” they said.

But Saturday’s 63-53 loss at Wisconsin was a sobering reminder that the Gophers returning to defend last season’s National Invitational Tournament championship is not a given.

“They do a great job of not beating themselves by not fouling and not turning the ball over,” head coach Richard Pitino said of Wisconsin. “They put you in so many binds offensively.”

Naismith Trophy candidate Frank Kaminsky was hot from the opening tip, blowing past the Gophers after getting them in the air with pump fakes or hitting 3-pointers when given space behind the arc. The senior center finished with a game-high 21 points.

Minnesota (16-12, 5-10 Big Ten) did its best to keep Kaminsky in check with redshirt senior center Mo Walker actually out-rebounding him while tallying eight points.

“Early on he got me a few times on the shot fake. I let him really get me off my feet,” Walker said. “I think later in the game I adjusted.”

Senior guard Andre Hollins, who has been instrumental to the Gophers’ success this season, shot a dismal 1-for-8 from the field for two points against Wisconsin’s lanky guards.

“Andre just didn’t have it going,” Pitino said. “The way they play, they sag off you and make you take challenged jump shots. You’ve got to make jump shots, and when you don’t, you’re not going to win.”

In a surprise move, freshman Nate Mason started at point guard while senior DeAndre Mathieu came off the bench.

“DeAndre just was frustrated after the Northwestern game, and I wasn’t crazy about his attitude, so I wasn’t going to play him a whole lot,” Pitino said of Mathieu, who finished with 11 points. “I wanted to see how he responded, and he responded great.”

Mason also recorded 11 points off 5-for-11 shooting, but Wisconsin sophomore guard Bronson Koenig upstaged him.

Koeing played all but one minute of the game for the Badgers (25-2, 13-1 Big Ten), tallied 17 points and blocked a Mason fast-break layup.

While Koenig and Kaminsky were stellar, the driving force behind the Gophers’ third consecutive loss was likely their own preventable mistakes.

Minnesota’s first three possessions of the second half ended with a turnover. First, a Charles Buggs pass intended for Hollins sailed out of bounds after the senior guard fell onto the court. Less than a minute later, Walker made an outlet pass to Mason, who bobbled it.

Finally, Buggs threw a pass out of bounds when it looked like he was going up for a shot.

“Coming into the second half, we thought we were going to make a run,” Mason said. “Having those three turnovers was big.”

Wisconsin has a reputation for playing a slower, methodical game and is 345th out of 351 teams in adjusted tempo, according to Kenpom.com. The Gophers are embracing a faster pace under Pitino, but they were held to their second-lowest point total against one of the best teams in the country.

“I thought we played our game,” Walker said. “We were not as fluid offensively in the second half, but that was just because of the turnovers.”