Wisconsin rebounded from its regular season-ending loss at Nebraska in emphatic fashion and, at the same time, jeopardized Minnesota’s NCAA tournament hopes.
Behind a career-high 29 points (on just 15 shots) from senior Ben Brust, the Badgers cruised to a dominating 83-57 victory over the Gophers in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. The 26-6 Badgers will now face the winner of Friday night’s Michigan State-Northwestern showdown in Saturday’s semifinals.
Deandre Mathieu (18 points, five assists) and the Gophers kept things close for the game’s first 17 minutes. That was until the Badgers notched the final eight points of the first half on two 3-pointers from freshman Bronson Koenig and a Sam Dekker jumper and headed to the locker room up 34-22.
The Badgers picked up where they left off in the second half and Minnesota could never get closer than nine points the rest of the way.
This was a statement game for the Badgers. After Villanova’s loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament, there’s a No. 1 seed just asking to be taken. The Badgers could be that team.
Bo Ryan’s group is as deep as any team in the country – especially when Big Ten sixth man of the year Nigel Hayes (15 points, six rebounds) and Koenig (14 points, 4-of-4 from three), both freshmen, add to the team’s balanced scoring attack. Contributions from those two, plus consistent play from Brust, first-team All-Big Ten forward Frank Kaminsky, Dekker, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson make the Badgers an extremely dangerous team moving forward.
A blowout loss was the worst thing that could have happened for Minnesota (20-13). The Gophers would have assured themselves an at-large bid with a win over the Badgers, but now Richard Pitino’s team will wait nervously before learning its fate on selection Sunday. Despite having one of the ten toughest schedules in the nation, the Gophers are 2-8 against the top 50 and back-to-back losses to Northwestern and Purdue in February won’t help their cause.
It’s wait and see now for the Gophers.