Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - Up three games with five to play, the fifth- ranked Wisconsin Badgers can take another step toward claiming the Big Ten Conference's regular-season crown when they play host to the Minnesota Golden Gophers at the Kohl Center on Saturday.
Minnesota (16-11, 5-9 Big Ten) is hoping to put the brakes on a two-game slide by upsetting the Badgers, and the team would like to improve its seeding in the upcoming conference tournament by going on a run to close out the regular season. The Golden Gophers, who dropped a 72-66 decision at home to Northwestern on Wednesday, will also be seeking only their fourth road win in this, their 11th chance to do so.
It wasn't pretty, but Wisconsin earned its ninth consecutive victory and 24th of the season by getting past Penn State on the road on Wednesday night, 55-47. It was another impressive defensive effort by the Badgers, who are 13-1 at home this season, and own a 12-1 league ledger. Three teams are tied for second place with 9-4 records, putting UW in a favorable position with only two weeks left in the regular season.
Minnesota leads the all-time series, 96-90, but the Badgers have won the last two meetings, and six of the last eight overall. The two teams will square off again in Minneapolis on March 5.
Nate Mason scored 15 points as one of four Golden Gophers to reach double figures, but the home team found a way to lose to the Northwestern Wildcats on Wednesday night. Minnesota shot 43.1 percent from floor, knocking down 9-of-25 long-range launches along the way, but once again the team struggled to defend the 3-point line, yielding 15 treys to the Wildcats. The Gophers allowed 18 3- pointers in a loss to Indiana a few days earlier. Minnesota's leading scorer, Andre Hollins, was held to 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Hollins also had six assists and four rebounds, but was just 3-of-10 out on the perimeter.
As mentioned, Hollins leads the Gophers in scoring with his 15.0 ppg, and he grabs 4.1 rpg and hands out 2.7 apg as well. Maurice Walker (11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Carlos Morris (11.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg) round out the double-digit scorers for a Minnesota squad that puts up 74.4 ppg, which is the third-best average in the Big Ten. De'Andre Mathieu is one of the top playmakers in the conference, as he has been credited with 127 assists (4.7 apg). Despite doing a nice job of finding the bottom of the net on their 3-point tries (.382), the Gophers are ranked pretty low in the league when it comes to free-throw percentage (.661, 13th). On defense, they also sit next-to-last in the league with an average yield of 65.9 ppg.
In Wisconsin's recent win at Penn State, Sam Dekker poured in a career-high 22 points, while both Frank Kaminsky (16 points, nine rebounds) and Nigel Hayes (nine points, 13 rebounds) came close to logging double-doubles for the Badgers, who shot just 39.2 percent from the floor, which included a dismal 5- of-22 showing beyond the arc. UW won the battle on the boards, 37-28, and despite allowing 29 points to the Big Ten's leading scorer, PSU's D.J. Newbill, it held the Nittany Lions to 38.9 percent field goal efficiency and only 2-of-13 accuracy from downtown. Both teams took very good care of the basketball, combining for a mere 14 turnovers. The Badgers received zero points from their reserves.
Wisconsin is the best defensive team in the Big Ten, and one of the best in the country as it allows just 55.5 ppg on a typical shooting effort of 41.1 percent. Conversely, the Badgers are hitting their field goals at a 48 percent clip, and they are also extremely effective at the foul line (.753, second in the league). The team also owns significant advantages in both rebounding (+6.4, second) and turnovers (+3.0, fourth), and it boasts three double-digit scorers in Kaminsky (17.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg), Dekker (13.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Hayes (12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg). Kaminsky is about as well-rounded as any big man can be, as he also paces the Badgers in assists (61) and blocked shots (39), while ranking second in steals (21), all while shooting 54 percent from the floor, which includes a 39.7 percent performance out on the perimeter.