MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans didn’t mince words.
“The first half was ugly. Coach gave us a good speech at halftime,” he said.
Thanks to that talk and 22 points from Jordan Taylor, No. 14 Wisconsin righted the ship in the second half and beat Minnesota 52-45 on Tuesday night, clinching a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament.
Evans wasn’t exaggerating. Both teams shot poorly, there were 43 fouls called and the teams combined to shoot 58 free throws.
But the Badgers (22-8, 11-6) found their shooting touch in the second half to secure at least a fourth-place finish in the conference.
Minnesota (17-13, 5-12) led 23-16 at halftime. But Wisconsin opened the second half on a 9-2 run to tie it at 25 on a three-point play by Mike Bruesewitz. He was initially called for a charge, but the officials huddled and reversed the call. Replays showed Andre Hollins’ foot was on the arc under the basket.
Had the original call stood, it would have been Bruesewitz’s third foul just 4 minutes into the second half, and Gophers coach Tubby Smith ripped the call after the game.
“You’re going to huddle like that and change a call? Are you kidding me?” Smith said. “It’s a joke. It really is.”
Minutes later, with the game tied at 27, Smith was called for a technical foul, and Taylor hit both free throws to give Wisconsin its first lead since 11-10 midway through the first half. Taylor followed with a 3-pointer, and Wisconsin didn’t trail the rest of the way.
Robb Wilson’s 3 with just under 7 minutes left gave Wisconsin its first double-digit lead at 44-34, and the Badgers held on down the stretch.
Evans added 12 points for Wisconsin.
Hollins led the Gophers with 18 points, while Ralph Sampson III finished with eight points to give him 1,004 for his career. He is the fifth player in Minnesota history with 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 150 blocks.
But that was one of the few highlights for the Gophers in what is now a six-game losing streak. With their hopes of an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament taking a huge hit over the last three weeks, Hollins said it’s time to focus on the Big Ten tournament.
“This is the second season,” he said. “We have to refocus ourselves. Don’t worry about this and go out and win the Big Ten. Everything has changed.”
The teams were almost even at the free throw line as Minnesota shot 21 of 29, though it missed three of its last four attempts, and Wisconsin was 22 of 29. But after shooting 19 percent from the field in the first half, Badgers knocked down 4 of 12 from behind the 3-point arc in the second half. Minnesota, meanwhile, shot just 24 percent for the game.
Despite looking lifeless Sunday in a 19-point home loss to Indiana, the Gophers were the aggressor for most of the first half Tuesday.
It didn’t hurt that Taylor was called for his second foul with a little more than 6 minutes left in the first half, sending him to the bench, and Wisconsin’s offense ground to a halt. The Gophers finished the first half on a 9-3 run to lead 23-16, and the spurt included a technical foul on Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
After Sampson hit two free throws, a Minnesota player lined up out of bounds to inbound the ball. As the crowd voiced its displeasure, the referees made sure Wisconsin got the ball, but pass was errant and rolled out of bounds at midcourt.
Ryan said the delay allowed Minnesota to set up its press, which it used off and on to slow Wisconsin’s offense. He said all he asked was whether it should have been a technical on the Gophers.
“My feeling was it altered the flow of the game, so I had an opinion,” Ryan said. “Evidently, I was wrong.”