Badgers bounce back in home finale

first_imgMEGHAN CONLIN/Herald photoJudging by the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s performance Sunday afternoon, the best things in life — and basketball — truly are free, as evidenced by UW’s 80-74 victory over Minnesota. The Badgers set season-highs in free throw attempts (36), makes (29) and percentage (81 percent) to bounce back from Thursday’s deflating loss to Northwestern and remain in a tie for second place in the Big Ten.”That was definitely a big focus today,” said junior forward Alando Tucker, who scored a game-high 22 points for UW. “That’s how you win games — if you attack and you are aggressive.””Oh, yeah, [the mindset was] attack them,” freshman Joe Krabbenhoft said. “We were a little hesitant against Northwestern, and the Gophers were aggressive on defense. We just felt like we could shoot the gaps and hit the open jumpers.””Instead of being the attacke[d], attack them. That’s what we had to do.”If charity is a virtue, than the Wisconsin (19-8, 9-5 Big Ten) players were a collection of saints. The Badgers outscored Minnesota (14-11, 5-9) by 19 points from the charity stripe, to the dismay of Golden Gopher head coach Dan Monson.”For whatever reason, we were obviously in some foul trouble,” said a visibly frustrated Monson, who declined to talk about the officiating of the game. “We never got them uncomfortable at home, proven by how relaxed they were shooting free throws.” For the fourth consecutive game, Wisconsin went into the half trailing, this time down 38-36. The game was hard-fought, as one might expect from the border rivals, and neither team was ever able to open a lead greater than eight points throughout the game. With 5:45 left, Minnesota’s Adam Boone gave the Gophers a 61-60 lead. However, the lead was short-lived and, two possessions later, sophomore forward Brian Butch hit a 15-foot jumper to spark a quick, six-point Badger run that gave UW a lead it would never relinquish. Wisconsin was able to score at least one point on 11 of its final 13 possessions.”What prevailed was that we just went after the ball real hard [down the stretch],” Krabbenhoft said.Although the afternoon was billed as Senior Day (or Ray Nixon Day, as he is the lone senior), it was a pair of freshmen who stole the show, as the Badgers received unexpected career outings by freshmen Kevin Gullikson and Krabbenhoft. “They did a great job,” Tucker said of the freshman duo. “For them to step up and rebound and make big plays defensively, that’s what we need. If we’re going to be a great team, we need that, and these two guys did a heck of a job.”Gullikson scored a career-high 12 points and played solid post defense, as the starting forwards for Minnesota, J’son Stamper and Zach Puchtel, combined for only three points the entire game. “He did a great job,” Ryan said, emphasizing the defensive effort from Gullikson. “You see the points, I see the points, too, but I also see the other things that Kevin did.”With ten points and ten rebounds, Krabbenhoft notched his first career double-double. It was the first time the Sioux Falls, S.D., native had scored 10 points or grabbed 10 rebounds in over a month.”He did a great job of keeping everything in front of him and banging hard and playing hard,” Ryan said. “He was opportunistic.”The pair of Gullikson and Krabbenhoft was able to take advantage of a Minnesota defense that collapsed on Tucker every time he touched the ball, hitting open jumpers and collecting offensive rebounds for put-backs and trips to the foul line. Both of the freshmen stressed the importance of relieving all of the scoring pressure from Tucker.”When you got a guy like ‘Tuck’ who can score in so many ways and when people are taking things away from him, it just opens up things for other people,” Krabbenhoft said. “We just capitalized on that.”[Tucker] can score on five guys, there’s no doubt in my mind,” Krabbenhoft continued. “But when he sees us open, I think that is an easier shot than over five guys. … If we get the ball with that opportunity, we have to knock it down.” In Nixon’s final home game, the oft-overlooked starter had a quiet but productive performance that has become typical of him, snatching away two steals and scoring seven points, including a 3-pointer that gave UW the lead with 10:43 remaining.The senior from Milwaukee netted the Badgers’ final four points — all from the free-throw line — and, with three seconds left, left the game to a standing ovation.”You could tell he got emotional coming out of the game,” Tucker said. “It’s great to just see that.”last_img

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