Offense struggles again in last-second loss

The Gophers lost their fourth straight game Saturday at Wisconsin.

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins (1) competes for the ball against Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz on Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. The game ended in a 44-45 loss for the Gophers.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota guard Andre Hollins (1) competes for the ball against Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz on Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. The game ended in a 44-45 loss for the Gophers.

by Andrew Krammer

MADISON, Wis. — Rodney Williams had a chance to redeem himself and his struggling Gophers with 1.7 seconds left in Minnesota’s 45-44 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday.

The senior co-captain stepped up to the free throw line, his team down two points, and made the first free throw in front of an announced crowd of 17,249 at the Kohl Center.

The second clanged off the back of the rim, sending the No. 12 Gophers to their fourth straight loss after starting the season 15-1.

“The second one felt just as good as the first one,” Williams said, “but it just didn’t bounce my way.”

The offensive woes continued for a Gophers men’s basketball team once considered to be a sleeper to win the Big Ten.

Minnesota didn’t make a field goal in the final 3:55 of the game as the Badgers’ Traevon Jackson hit two jumpers in the final 1:04.

Andre Hollins led the team with 20 points, the sixth time this season he’s surpassed that mark, and he was the only Gophers player to score in double figures.

Williams, Austin Hollins and Joe Coleman combined to shoot 2-for-22 from the field and gathered seven rebounds combined.

Minnesota averaged 77 points in its first five Big Ten games, but it has averaged 46 in its last two.

“We’ve had three chances now to break [our losing streak],” coach Tubby Smith said. “Maybe we’re not pushing the right buttons. … Obviously [losing] becomes a state of mind.”

With the game tied 43-43 and two seconds left, Jackson made a jumper. Trevor Mbakwe bit on Jackson’s pump fake as the shot clock wound down and failed to contest the shot.

“It’s a lack of discipline,” Smith said. “[Jackson] shot faked, we jump out of the way. Once again, a mistake. That’s how you get beat.”

Some replays showed Jackson’s shot came after the shot clock had expired, but the play was not reviewable.

After the Gophers called timeout, Williams inbounded a lob to Mbakwe, who was fouled by Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz. But Mbakwe appeared to injure his wrist on the play and couldn’t take the free throws.

The 24-year-old Mbakwe  — who said he won’t miss any games moving forward — injured his right wrist in Minnesota’s loss to Northwestern on Wednesday. He had a bag of ice on it as he spoke to the media Saturday.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan chose Williams to shoot the free throws in place of Mbakwe. When a player is injured and can’t shoot his free throws, the opposing coach can choose the replacement from the remaining players on the floor at the time.

“I could’ve maybe wrapped up [the wrist and shot], but at the time we had confidence in Rodney being able to shoot them,” Mbakwe said.

Minnesota had multiple chances to claim victory outside of Williams’ last-second attempts.

The Badgers went scoreless for more than four minutes until Jackson’s jumpers sealed it.

But the Gophers struggled through their own scoreless streak in the last four minutes of the game.

Hollins and Mbakwe were both called for charging, and Hollins didn’t even get a shot attempt as he drove to the basket with less than a minute left.

“I went too deep,” Hollins said. “It sucks not to have a shot attempt at all. … It was a big momentum changer. My decision making … was very poor.”

Minnesota, which averages 40 rebounds a game, was held to 29 boards, only eight of which came on the offensive glass.

Despite Williams’ poor shooting in the last three losses, the senior co-captain didn’t blame the team’s lack of offense.

“For us, I think it was just getting the key rebound we needed,” Williams said. “Neither team shot the ball well — can’t go there for an excuse.”

The Gophers shot 35 percent from the field and missed four of their final five field-goal attempts.

Prior to its losing streak, Minnesota was ranked eighth in the country and had many talking about a potential Big Ten championship.

“It’s a different group, a different team,” Smith said. “But it’s taking on the same scenario, the same M.O.”