Gophers grind out crucial OT win

Minnesota beat Wisconsin 58-53 in overtime to end a two-game losing streak.

Charlie Armitz

The Gophers were outplayed, slowed and frustrated Thursday at Williams Arena.

But never beaten.

Minnesota fought through poor shooting and a sluggish pace to beat rival Wisconsin 58-53 in overtime, ending a two-game losing streak in front of announced sellout crowd.

The Gophers (6-6 Big Ten) had lost six of their last eight games after starting the season 15-1, putting their NCAA tournament chances in question for the first time in months.

“The sky was falling around here,” coach Tubby Smith said. “Sometimes when the sky is falling and you’re laying under a ceiling, you think it’s going to cave in on you.”

The Gophers showed a lack of confidence for much of Thursday’s game. They fell behind by double digits early after missing 11 of their first 13 shots, looked tentative and jittery on offense and struggled to sustain momentum. They let the Badgers (8-4 Big Ten), who thrive in a half-court game under coach Bo Ryan, slow the game down to a crawl from the opening tip.

But Wisconsin left the door open with its own offensive struggles, and Minnesota capitalized down the stretch.

Trailing 49-43, the Gophers held the Badgers scoreless for the last 5:08 of regulation. Two unlikely events in the last 30 seconds helped them force overtime.

With Minnesota down by two, the Badgers’ Mike Bruesewitz moved his feet on an inbounds play — an illegal play that resulted in a turnover. Then Gophers sophomore Joe Coleman drove to the basket and drew a foul on a broken offensive set.

Coleman made both free throws and the Badgers missed a potential game-winner.

“I had just told [Coleman] in the last timeout, ‘Look, make sure you attack the basket. Don’t be passive,'” Smith said. “Joe saw an opening and really attacked.”

Minnesota held Wisconsin without a point for nearly four minutes to start overtime, completing a scoreless stretch of 8:48.

“We knew we had to buckle down defensively,” sophomore Andre Hollins said. “In the first half, we kind of let them set the tempo on our defensive side. They got too many easy looks, got some open threes.”

Hollins, who scored a game-high 21 points, made a go-ahead three-pointer to start overtime. After the shot, he blew a kiss to the crowd.

It was a rare light moment on a frustrating night.

“We knew it was going to be a long game,” senior Trevor Mbakwe said. “They frustrate you a little bit sometimes, but we’re tough mentally, and we knew that it was going to be a grind-it-out game just like it was in Madison.”

The Badgers beat the Gophers 45-44 in Madison, Wis., last month despite 20 points from Hollins. Like Thursday, both teams had opportunities in the end and the home team capitalized.

And like Thursday, the Badgers were unable to put away the Gophers despite dictating the pace.

“We feel comfortable playing any style,” Smith said Thursday. “Even though we’re trying to force the pace, you’re just not going to do it against Bo Ryan’s teams. They’re too fundamentally sound, they’re very patient, they’re disciplined, they’re very deliberate.”

While Minnesota often looked out of sorts on offense, it benefited from playing a simpler style. Minnesota committed nine turnovers, almost five below its season average, and it shot 24 free throws, seven more than Wisconsin.

Smith and Hollins had met Wednesday to discuss ways to simplify the Gophers’ game.

“He said he didn’t care if we had 50 turnovers as long as we win,” Hollins said. “He wanted us to play basketball.”