Stellar start a distant memory after Minnesota skids to fourth straight Big Ten loss

Kyle Ringo
The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

The good news for Minnesota is Nebraska is next on the schedule. The bad news is the Gophers fell under .500 in the Big Ten again by losing at Wisconsin 45-44, their fourth consecutive loss in the conference.

The Gophers looked like a legitimate contender in the Big Ten after starting the season 15-1 with the only loss coming to Duke and wins over Florida State, Michigan State and Illinois among others. Now it's a guessing game as to where Minnesota goes from here. Who are these Gophers?

Minnesota hasn't finished better than .500 in conference play since the 2004-05 season. The schedule never truly lightens up in the Big Ten, but perhaps back-to-back upcoming games against the Cornhuskers and Iowa will help coach Tubby Smith get his team heading back in the right direction.

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Facing the Badgers on the road was among the worst possibilities the schedule could have offered after Minnesota lost three straight to Ohio State, Michigan and Northwestern. Minnesota has won only one time at Wisconsin since 1994. That came in 2009.

A victory was there for the taking this time, but Wisconsin made the necessary plays down the stretch and Minnesota missed key free throws for the second game in row, including one that could have tied it in the final two seconds.

Wisconsin point guard Traevon Jackson lofted a jumper over Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe in the final seconds and got the shooters touch as the ball bounced around the rim before falling through the net. Moments later, Mbakwe was fouled a re-injured his right wrist as he tried to receive a pass.

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Mbakwe was unable to shoot the free throws and went to the bench to watch the ending with a bag of ice on his wrist. The opposing coach is awarded the opportunity to select one of the other four players on the floor to shoot the free throws when an injury prevents the player who was fouled from doing so. Bo Ryan chose Minnesota senior Rodney Williams, who made the first but missed the second which would have tied the game.

Williams came into the game shooting 65 percent this season from the foul line but just 56 percent during his career. It was the correct choice by Ryan.

Maybe the only positive to take away from the tough loss for Minnesota was sophomore point guard Andre Hollins rebounding from several poor performances in losses to Michigan and Northwestern. He scored a team best 20 points. However, he was called for a charge in the final minute, giving the ball back to Wisconsin just before its game-winner.

Follow Kyle on Twitter @KyleRingo

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