No. 6 Badgers defense makes nothing easy on the No. 21 Gophers

Wisconsin’s guards clamped down on defense, limiting star Gophers point guard Marcus Carr to a season-low 10 points in a 71-59 win.


Nur B. Adam

Guard Marcus Carr shoots through the opponents at Williams Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 28.

Matthew Kennedy, Sports Reporter

Coming into this edition of the Border Battle, the Minnesota Golden Gophers were white-hot. After winning their last two games versus Big Ten giants in Iowa and Michigan State, the sky seemed to be the limit. Yet, in just their second road test of the season, the game was mostly lopsided.

Wisconsin started out this contest playing stout defense against the Gophers, not allowing a field goal to drop for the first four and a half minutes. Micah Potter had a superb start for the Badgers scoring the team’s first five points. Potter closed the opening half nearly securing a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds. He finished the game with 18 points and11 rebounds.

On the other hand, Minnesota started the game 0-of-6 from beyond the arch and 0-of-7 overall. A common theme throughout the first half was Minnesota trying to speed up the tempo of the game, but Wisconsin’s stiff defense didn’t let the Gophers score fast and furious. A couple turnovers by Marcus Carr and Both Gach entering foul trouble early on were early red flags for the Gophers, who were down 14-7 at the first media timeout.

With seven minutes to go in the half, the Gophers were fortunate enough to only be staring down a four point deficit after shooting a woeful 4-of-22 and 1-for-10 from three. The Badgers small lead can be credited to the Gophers dominating time of possession due to them controlling the boards in the first half, especially on offense. Forwards Liam Robbins, Isaiah Ihnen and Brandon Johnson created nice second and third chance opportunities – the only problem was the Gophers could not find the bottom of the net after those generous rebounds.

After more turnovers from the Gophers, seven total in the half, the Badgers managed to get their largest lead of the game at nine, which felt like a mountain to climb for the Gophers, who were scraping and clawing for any points they could muster. The score at halftime was 29-22, with Minnesota leading in offensive rebounds 8-to-4 but had seven costly turnovers which turned into easy buckets for the Badgers.

The only bright spot of the game for Minnesota was Gabe Kalschuer. The struggling junior guard led the way in by far his best shooting half of the season. He went into the break with 12 points, shooting 3-of-5 from the field, including 2-for-4 from three and hit 4-of-5 at the stripe. Besides Kalschuer, the rest of the Gophers were ice cold, shooting a combined 3-for-26.

The second half started off hot for the Badgers. Wisconsin stretched its lead to 12 after a three from Aleem Ford. For Minnesota, Carr was held in check again in the second half, finishing the game with 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting, seven assists and five boards. The game plan to pick and roll to give Carr open looks failed as the Badgers constantly doubled Carr to limit his vision for either an off-dribble shot or a pass to an open big man.

After a Brad Davison stepback three, the Badgers were out to a commanding 19-point lead midway through the half.

The Gophers at one point went on a 9-0 run during the back half of the second, spearheaded by Johnson and Robbins. Even after that effort, the Gophers still were down by 17. The final score was surprisingly 71-59 in a game where the Gophers biggest deficit was 26.

The key to the Badgers victory was outmuscling the Gophers with a huge advantage in points in the paint, 40-18. D’Mitrik Trice and Ford also having a consistent stroke from the three-point line also was a problem. They shot a combined 4-for-8 from deep and the sharpshooting duo had 14 points each.

The Gophers have a small sample size and ugly resume for their road games, a 27-point loss against Illinois and now a 12-point loss to the Badgers.

“There’s no fans so the home court advantage obviously isn’t a factor. It’s more about the opponent that we are playing. Both Illinois and Wisconsin are very physical teams,” head coach Richard Pitino said. “We didn’t respond well to both of those defenses, so it’s more about us playing well on the court when the game starts.”

Johnson and Kalschuer on the other hand mentioned that playing on a foreign court with different rims or a different home court ball can play a factor into shooting troubles. But neither player completely blamed their tough shooting on those small quirks.

“It’s weird getting used to it [away game rims or different balls], but I wouldn’t make that an excuse for today’s performance,” Kalschuer said.

The continued road-game disappearance of Both Gach also helped the Badgers immensely. The 6-foot-6 transfer from Utah has averaged three points per game in the Gophers two road games. Pitino wants Gach going forward “to play more confidently,” not just in scoring but on all ends of the court.

The Gophers will look to bounce back at home on Sunday, Jan. 3 against 25th-ranked Ohio State.

“We can’t rely on Marcus scoring 30 points a game. It’s gotta be five guys playing together and moving the ball, which we did successfully against Iowa and Michigan State, but not tonight,” Pitino said.