MINNEAPOLIS (AP)—Wisconsin anticipated an up-and-down season from sophomore Trevon Hughes, an expectation that has held true.
The 13th-ranked and well-rounded Badgers are a difficult team to beat when their still-developing point guard is playing well. Hughes showed that Sunday with 20 points and six steals in a 63-47 victory over Minnesota.
Marcus Landry and Brian Butch each added 11 points for the Badgers (18-3, 8-1 Big Ten), who controlled the game from the start. They led 39-23 at halftime and survived an ugly second half in which the Gophers (13-7, 3-5) came no closer than 14 points.
Hughes was all over the court enough to gloss over his four turnovers. The big men owned the area around the basket, Landry found plenty of openings in the lane, and Wisconsin won for the 12th time in the last 13 games.
“Defense is what gets us started,” Hughes said. “If our shots aren’t falling down, you can always go back and play good defense. You never hear anyone say, ‘Ah, my defense wasn’t falling down today.’ You never hear it.”
The Badgers came into the weekend allowing an average of 54.5 points per game, the second-fewest in Division I. They held No. 11 Indiana to a season-low 49 points on Thursday, and this was the worst offensive production of the season for Minnesota.
The Badgers stayed in step with Purdue for first place in the conference by beating the Gophers for the 12th time in their last 13 meetings.
“Our main thing is we have to stay cool and calm,” Butch said.
Lawrence Westbrook led the Gophers with 11 points, and Damian Johnson had 10 points and five blocks. With those two now in the starting lineup, the bench has been largely unproductive. Most glaring for Minnesota was a 20-8 deficit in points off turnovers, though each team gave the ball away 18 times.
The Barn was sold out for the third time this season, with late ticket buyers sitting on stairs in the aisles. Football coach Tim Brewster was among the recognizable faces in the crowd.
The Badgers made sure the noise level didn’t last. They made 11 of their first 14 shots from the field and used a 15-2 run over a span of about 5 minutes to open a 29-10 lead.
Hughes poked away a lazy pass by Spencer Tollackson at the top of the key and took it to the other end for an easy dunk during the spurt. Hughes had 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“He kept his composure. He was strong with the ball. He’s a little lower to the ground and fairly thick. Those kind of guards do have that advantage as long as everything else is on track,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “He’s much better now than he was earlier in the year, but that’s what we figured.”
First-year Minnesota coach Tubby Smith has high standards, coming from a successful program like Kentucky. He has been demanding on the Gophers even though they’re not as deep or talented as his Kentucky teams usually were. He acknowledged that it might be time to try a different approach, now that Minnesota has lost four of the last five games.
“All you can do is be positive,” Smith said. “Can’t take much beating down, I guess. I jumped ‘em pretty good at halftime, and they didn’t really respond.”
Smith has been especially hard on his three seniors, Tollackson, Dan Coleman and Lawrence McKenzie, with mixed results. Coleman and Tollackson combined for only one rebound in the first half, and Smith again lamented the trio’s uneven play.
“We need to have that type of leadership. If we don’t, we’re going to struggle,” Smith said.
Westbrook wasn’t willing to use that as an excuse.
“They’re seniors and all, but I don’t look to Lawrence, Dan or Spencer to set the tempo for my game,” he said. “I’m my own man. I’m 20 years old. I’ve been playing basketball for a long time, so when I struggle it just makes me want to step up even more.”
Though vastly improved from last season’s 9-22 finish, the Gophers are still searching for their first big win, that quality victory the NCAA tournament selection committee typically requires a few of for an at-large bid. The Gophers dropped to 0-4 against the Big Ten’s ranked teams.
“We can’t keep starting off slow,” Westbrook said. “It’s hard to bounce back when a good team has you from the start.”