The Big Ten season is just over a week old, but Wednesday’s night’s 50-64 loss at Wisconsin for Minnesota’s men’s basketball team was as big as a game can get in the month of January.
The Gophers (8-5, 0-2 Big Ten) were unable to avoid their first 0-2 start in conference play under Dan Monson while the Badgers (11-4, 1-2) kept from an 0-3 Big Ten start for the first time since 1987 and extended home winning streak over Minnesota to eight games.
Similar to the Gophers’ game against Illinois, Minnesota’s offense struggled mightily en route to 21-of-58 shooting (36.2 percent).
“Basketball is a game of flow and rhythm,” coach Dan Monson said. “Right now offensively we’re not in that.”
With 7:25 remaining in the game, the Gophers were down 51-43, but managed only three field goals the rest of the way. The Badgers ended the game on a 15-7 run, and two of Minnesota’s seven came on a meaningless dunk with two seconds to play. The Gophers 50 points are the second lowest game total under Monson. Minnesota scored 44 in a loss to Michigan State on March 2, 2000.
“It’s frustrating,” guard Maurice Hargrow said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to find other ways to win.”
Wisconsin, on the other hand, shot well throughout the game, hitting 45.5 percent from the floor.
The Badgers got off to a quick start in the first half, scoring the game’s first six points. But more importantly, Rick Rickert was saddled with two loose ball fouls in the first minute of the game. Monson left Rickert in until the 15:42 mark, but he played only four minutes the rest of the half, scoring just two points. He finished the game with a team high 14.
Kirk Penney, who averaged 23.3 points in his last three games against the Gophers, hit his first three shots and along with teammate Devin Harris led all scorers at the half with eight points.
But Penney, who’s mother made her first trip to the Kohl Center from Auckland, New Zealand, caught fire early in the second half, scoring 11 points in five-and-a-half minutes on his way to a game high 22.
Two minutes into the second-half, Monson substituted for all five players on the floor, trying to spark a defensive stand after his squad gave up six quick points. But Minnesota’s zone looked soft all night, as the Badgers constantly found open lanes to the hoop after beating perimeter defenders off the dribble.
“They just came out more competitive and more intense,” guard Ben Johnson said. “We came out lackadaisical. They came out like they wanted to win and we didn’t.”
But Monson was most displeased with Minnesota’s lack of foul shots. Although the Gophers attempted to pound the ball inside, the only post player to shoot a free throw was Michael Bauer, who missed the front end of a one-and-one on a loose ball foul. Minnesota shot just seven free throws for the game, while Wisconsin attempted 13.
“It’s the road,” Hargrow said. “We prepare for that in practice. We’re not going to get many calls, we can’t leave the game in the officials hands.”
Minnesota returns home for its next contest Saturday against Michigan State. Against a much more physical Spartan squad, the Gophers must rediscover their shooting touch in order to avoid a three-game losing streak.
“Our offense is struggling right now,” Johnson said. “A lot of guys all around are missing shots we normally make. Somehow we’ve just got to find a way to fight through it.”
oint guard Aaron Robinson made his first start for the Gophers Wednesday night, replacing Kevin Burleson in the lineup.
“I didn’t start Kevin because Monday in practice I didn’t feel like he had a good day competitively and I’m just trying to make sure everybody’s accountable for how we play and how we practice,” Monson said. “I thought Kevin responded in that area well tonight.”
Robinson finished with no points and one assist while Burleson scored two points and dished out two assists.