Gophers can’t claw past Badgers
MADISON, Wis. — Sophomore Bronson Koenig’s continued development as the starting point guard has kept No. 5 Wisconsin rolling on its methodical march toward the Big Ten regular season title.
Koenig, whose 10 starts at point guard have coincided with the Badgers’ 10-game winning streak, scored a career-high 17 points and player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky scored 21 in a 63-53 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
The Badgers (25-2, 13-1 Big Ten) maintained their three-game conference lead in the loss column over Maryland, Purdue and Michigan State. Wisconsin is at Maryland on Tuesday and also has a game remaining with Michigan State.
Koenig was coming off his worst shooting game as a starter, going 2-for-10 overall and 0-for-5 from beyond the arc in a 55-47 win at Penn State.
"To be honest, my shots fell pretty good at Penn State, too. They just weren’t falling for me," said Koenig. "So I just tried to come into this game with the same mindset as every game and just shoot when I’m open pretty much. Luckily a couple of them were falling. But, I was pretty disappointed with a couple of times I could have finished at the rim."
Koenig, who took over at point after Traevon Jackson suffered a broken foot, committed just two turnovers in 39 minutes against a Minnesota team that forced 18 per game. Wisconsin leads the nation in fewest turnovers at 7.4 per game, a pace that would set a new NCAA Division I record.
"I thought we did a good job of handling their pressure on the press, kind of breaking it and making them go back and play man-to-man," said Koenig, who has turned the ball over just nine times in 459 minutes as a starter. "I thought we did a good job of making them play half-court, but I don’t think we did as good of a job, me personally as well, with handling the ball."
Nate Mason and Carlos Morris had 11 points apiece for the Gophers (16-12, 5-10), who lost their third straight. Minnesota is 1-14 at the Kohl Center and 6-19 against Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
Minnesota attempted just one free throw the entire game — and missed it. The Badgers, who led the nation in fewest fouls at 12.9, were called for seven fouls, compared with 17 for the Gophers. Wisconsin was 11-of-14 from the line.
"We certainly lost to a really good team," said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino. "That’s about as good a team in the country. They do a great job of not beating themselves by not fouling and not turning the ball over. I thought our guys gave great energy today. I thought we were very positive. We didn’t get down. We just lost to a really good team."
Wisconsin led 35-27 at the half and pushed it to 49-34 on a 3-pointer by Kaminsky with 10:34 remaining.
Sam Dekker , who struggled from the field, gave the Badgers their biggest lead at 54-38 on a dunk with 6:51 left. Dekker, the team’s second-leading scorer 13.4 points and shooting 53 percent, was just 1-of-8.
Kaminsky sandwiched a pair baskets around a jumper by Morris to put the Badgers up 59-48 with 2:25 remaining. DeAndre Mathieu’s 3-pointer cut it to 61-53 with 27 seconds left.
"We felt in control pretty much the whole second half," said Kaminsky, who made 9 of 13 shots and also had three blocks. "We knew they were trying to catch us the whole time and we were getting some easy buckets and scoring and running some clock on offense. It was just one of those games where we got the lead and never looked back."
Andre Hollins, the Gophers’ top scorer at 15 per game, also was 1-of-8 from the field and finished with two points.