Minnesota played inspired basketball to the deafening roars of an approving sellout crowd of 14,625 at Williams Arena during an impressive 68-52 Border Battle win against #14/16 Wisconsin Thursday night.
The Golden Gophers (15-10, 6-7 Big Ten) used three-straight three-pointers, two from junior guard Blake Hoffarber sandwiched around one by sophomore guard Devoe Joseph, during an 11-2 run early in the first half to take a 16-10 lead after trailing, 8-5. Minnesota never relinquished the lead, stretching its advantage to 35-26 at the break.
In the second half, Minnesota pushed its lead to 13 points, 39-26, with 17:45 remaining. But the Badgers responded by going on an 11-2 run to cut it to 41-37 at the 14:00 mark after back-to-back treys by Jason Bohannon. The lead stood at three points, 45-42, with 9:40 left in regulation, before Minnesota went on a game-clinching 13-0 run to stretch the lead to 58-42 with just 2:30 on the clock. The Badgers were held scoreless from that 9:40 mark until Trevon Hughes made a three-pointer with 1:51 left, a drought of seven minutes and 49 seconds.
Hoffarber finished with a team-highs of 16 points and nine rebounds in the win, just missing a double-double. It was Minnesota's third-straight victory in the series with Wisconsin, and the Gophers became one of only three Big Ten teams to have defeated a Badgers team coached by Bo Ryan three consecutive times. Illinois won four-straight versus UW during 2005-06, and Purdue captured four-in-a-row against the Badgers during 2008-09. It is Minnesota's first three-game winning streak versus its arch rival since winning three straight during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons (not counting vacated years).
Minnesota was able to dominate in the paint, even with the return of Wisconsin's 6-foot-10 Jon Leuer. The Gophers outscored the Badgers 22-to-6 inside, as they made 11-of-20 (.550) field goals in the lane. Sophomore forward Ralph Sampson III finished with 10 points and eight rebounds for the Gophers, while senior forward Damian Johnson had 11 points, four boards, and two blocks, and sophomore center Colton Iverson contributed five points and seven rebounds. As he had indicated in the days leading up to the game, head coach Tubby Smith utilized a lineup that often had Sampson and Iverson on the floor at the same time, and the Gophers finished with a 41-28 advantage in rebounds.
Joseph also played a solid game for Minnesota, scoring 10 points, dishing out five assists, and grabbbing five rebounds in 28 minutes. Joseph was 4-for-10 overall, but made both of his attempts from three-point range at key points in the game.
Wisconsin (19-7, 9-5) was paced by Hughes' game-high 19 points and four steals, while Bohannon added 18 points in the loss. Leuer, who was playing for the first time since fracturing his wrist in early January, was limited to 2-for-12 field goal attempts in a four-point effort. Leuer had been averaging 15.4 points per game prior to the injury.
The Gophers made 11-of-19 (.579) field goals, including 4-of-6 treys, to build their nine-point halftime lead. The shooting cooled off a bit in the second half (39.1 percent), but Minnesota still finished at 20-for-42 (.476) overall and 5-for-9 (.556) behind the three-point arc. In addition, the Gophers made 23-of-28 free throws for an outstanding 82.1 percent. Meanwhile, Wisconsin struggled offensively by making just 18-of-59 (.305) attempts, including 11-of-30 (.367) three-pointers.
Minnesota now has a short turnaround before it plays host to Indiana University on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. The Hoosiers defeated the Gophers, 81-78 in overtime on Jan. 17 in Bloomington. Saturday's game is set to be televised on the Big Ten Network.