MADISON, Wis. — Eric Harris put the Gophers men’s basketball team’s 66-65 loss to Wisconsin into perspective Saturday afternoon. No loss is ever appreciated, but this one, he said, might be a godsend for the Gophers as they head into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.
The Gophers point guard made sense. The sting from this loss, as painful as it felt after the game, can serve as a reminder to the team throughout the tournament.
“We haven’t lost in a long time and we forgot how it felt,” he said. “I think this will make us more hungry. We don’t want to lose and feel this way anymore. I think if we would’ve won we would have become overconfident a little bit. This will bring us back down to Earth.”
Welcome back. The Gophers reached a nice orbit before Saturday. They had won 12 straight games and had won five of their last seven by three or fewer points. They locked up the Big Ten championship three games ago and had a No. 2 national ranking.
Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity (what goes up must come down) took control over the Gophers against Wisconsin. Now, Minnesota just hopes it can get back up, and stay up, for six more games — the number the Gophers must reach to win the national championship. They hope the path Kentucky took last year, losing the final game of the regular season and going on to win the national title, can hold true to Minnesota.
“We have not yet put all nine guys out there and each one of those individuals play up to their potential,” Gophers coach Clem Haskins said. “We had some good play, but not everybody is putting their best foot forward. Once we get that to happen, we’re going to have a chance to advance.”
The Gophers found out Sunday evening they will be the tournament’s No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. They play Southwest Texas on Friday in Kansas City, Mo. The victory for Wisconsin did just enough to put it into the tournament. Entering the game it had been on the tournament bubble, a team which could have just as easily been left out.
“It’s not like losing to nobody,” Haskins said. “This is a good loss for us. We’ll get refocused now as we head into postseason play.
“I think this works for you, but sometimes it works against you. This game isn’t going to hurt us.”
The Gophers (27-3, 16-2 Big Ten) had a chance to win it at the end. In what is turning into the norm for Minnesota during the last month of the season, the game came down to the last possession. Minnesota had a 65-64 lead with 39.9 seconds left after Gophers forward Sam Jacobson hit a three-pointer.
But with 11.8 seconds remaining, Harris fouled Badgers guard Ty Calderwood. He made both free throws to put Wisconsin (18-9, 11-7) up by one.
Minnesota had one last chance for heroics, just like it had so many other times this season. Haskins said he wanted Jacobson or Bobby Jackson to take the last shot.
Jacobson got the ball from Harris but had trouble getting out of congestion. Jacobson tried to get open, but Calderwood knocked the ball loose. Badgers forward Sam Okey punched the ball up court where Calderwood took control and dribbled it away from every Gophers player.
That was another example of Wisconsin’s trademark stingy defense. For the game, Minnesota shot 38.8 percent (19-for-49) from the field.
Jackson led the Gophers with 17 points. Jacobson had 11 and Quincy Lewis scored 10.
It was the last Big Ten game for Wisconsin at the Fieldhouse. It opens the Kohl Center in time for next year’s conference season. Calderwood celebrated by taking off his jersey and standing on the scorer’s table with just his shorts on. Fans rushed the court.
“We feel just wonderful, in case you’re wondering,” Badgers coach Dick Bennett said. “If this is to be the last Big Ten game in the Fieldhouse, what a way to go out.”
GAME SUMMARYNo. 2 Gophers 36 29 — 65Wisconsin 29 37 — 66
Gophers — James 2-3 3-6 7, Jacobson 4-8 0-0 11, J.Thomas 1-7 2-2 4, Jackson 5-15 5-7 17, Harris 1-3 2-2 4, Lewis 3-7 4-4 10, C.Thomas 2-4 3-5 9, Tarver 1-1 1-2 3, Winter 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 19-49 20-28 65.
Wisconsin — Okey 3-6 5-6 12, Daugherty 3-8 4-4 11, Grant 4-11 9-11 17, Burkemper 0-1 0-0 0, Calderwood 6-15 4-4 19, Auriantal 1-2 0-2 3, Duany 0-0 0-0 0, Kosolcharoen 1-1 1-2 4, Totals 18-44 23-29 66.
Three-point goals — Minnesota 7-14 (Jacobson 3-6, C.Thomas 2-2, Jackson 2-4, Lewis 0-2), Wisconsin 7-15 (Calderwood 3-8, Auriantal 1-1, Kosolcharoen 1-1, Okey 1-2, Daugherty 1-2, Burkemper 0-1). Fouled out — None. Rebounds — Minnesota 33 (Jackson 8), Wisconsin 30 (Okey 9). Assists — Minnesota 7 (J.Thomas, Jackson 2), Wisconsin 10 (Calderwood, Auriantal 3). Total fouls — Minnesota 20, Wisconsin 20. Technical — Jackson. A — 11,500.