Badgers bounce pesky Gophers, 45-44, in battle of attrition

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Wisconsin played it's 2nd straight U-G-L-Y basketball game, but unlike the previous version they didn't dig themselves a massive hole as they hung on to defeat the Minnesota Gophers 45-44 and stay in the race for the top of the Big Ten. The Badgers (14-6, 5-2 B1G) benefited from missed free throws for a change as a strange sequence of action led to the Gophers' (15-5, 3-4 B1G) Rodney Williams, Jr. stepping to the line to take the free throws that Trevor Mbakwe "earned." 

He stepped up and hit the front end to make it 45-44, but missed the back end badly and Wisconsin secured the win with the rebound. That's not the point of contention at all, but what happened to put Williams to the line will go down in the history of this great rivalry as one of the most contentious in some time. 

With 1.8 seconds remaining the Gophers had an inbounds at mid-court and threw it up to Mbakwe, who was battling for position (sorta) with Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz. Somehow he managed to get a foul call his way despite the arm bar he was attempting to apply to Bruesewitz and despite no contact at the point of his catch he was granted a foul. 

Shortly after that he magically had a wrist "injury" and couldn't take the free throws. How convenient for a player that just happens to be the worst free throw shooter on the court. The Badgers smartly went to the stat sheets and figured out who of the remaining players on the court sucked at least a little less at free throws and the rest is now history. 

It's safe to say that sequence won't soon be forgotten, but it was also a microcosm of this entire game as the Badgers gave the Gophs just about every single chance to run away with this one by making dumb ball-handling decisions (10 turnovers) and dumb mental mistakes (throwing an air ball full court pass & fouling a three point shooter all in the final 2.8 seconds of the 1st half). 

The worst offender of all of that? Traevon Jackson. However, he more than made up for it by hitting the game winner with about a half-second left on the shot clock and about 2 seconds left in the game. 

It was eerily similar for the Badgers to the Michigan State game, shooting just 17-46 from the field and 7 of 22 from behind the line. The difference actually came from the line, where Wisconsin shot 4-8 for 50%, somehow improving their mark from the last time out. Unfortunately it dropped the Badgers to shooting just 60.7% from the free throw line on the season.

Wisconsin continues to play the best defense in the country as well, allowing the Gophs to have just 8 offensive rebounds for the game, well below their average of 48% of their own misses. UW also owned the boards overall, holding a 35-29 advantage.

The old saying says a win, is a win, is a win – and while it was far from pretty and there are many things this team needs to clean up on both ends I'll take staying in the conference race than being in a position to have lost a 4th conference game like the Gophs.

Let's get into the player grades and takeaways from this one, shall we?

Player Stats/Thoughts Grade
Traevon Jackson, G
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9pts, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 3 turnovers, 4-7 FG's, 25 min.

Jackson made one of the best, most heady plays of the year when he didn't force a bad shot & made the last four points to secure the win for Wisconsin. But, he had some really bad moments on the defensive end & those 3 turnovers could've been costly as well. 

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Ben Brust, G
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6pts, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2-5 FG's, 2-4 3pt FG's, 35 min.

Brust was off his game in terms of shooting to say the least, but he was an overall productive player. He did a lot of defensive dirty work and took care of the ball. The play that really sticks out is the charge he drew on Dre Hollins late in the 2nd half. 

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Ryan Evans, F
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10pts, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 4-10 FG's, 34 min.

Evans had himself one of the better all around games, nearly hitting for a double double, but it wasn't pretty for him as he also made some dumb plays & his shot selection left a bit to be desired as well. Hard to fault a guy that tied for the lead in points and had the most rebounds though – it was a nice day for him. Hell, he actually made free throws too.

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Jared Berggren, F
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2pts, 7 rebounds, 1-7 FG's, 0-3 3pt FG's, 29 min.

To say this wasn't Berggren's day would be an understatement of the highest order. He just didn't have it on the offensive end and while his defense wasn't awful we didn't see his usual blocked shots or aggressive floor play either. He never even went to the line & as a big man you've got to do that – I don't care what the gameplan is at Wisconsin.

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Mike Bruesewitz, F
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0pts, 3 rebounds, 0-3 FG's & 3pt FG's, fouled out, 24 min.

Um, ya, this one was not good for Bruesewitz by a LOOONNNGGG stretch. He played alright on the defensive end and was unlucky to foul out to be honest, but it's hard to avoid the goose egg and only 3 rebounds for the guy that's supposed to be the pest and the man in the middle of things.

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George Marshall, G
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8pts, 1 rebounds, 3-7 FG's, 2-4 3pt FG's, 1 assist, 1 steal, 19 min.

Marshall played perhaps his best all-around game of the season today. Yes, he did set the world on fire like he did against Indiana, but he was far, FAR better on the defensive end. He made smart plays and he contributed well enough to be the 3rd best scorer offensively. Not a bad day at all for the freshman.

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Sam Dekker, F
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10pts, 6 rebounds, 3-7 FG's, 2-5 3pt FG's, 2-3 FT's, 25 min.

Again, this was perhaps the best all-around game we've seen from Dekker. He tied for he team lead in points, was all over the boards defensively and did a great job communicating and taking smart shots. No doubt about it, he's going to be this team's best player when all is said and done. The only thing that sucked was seeing him go 3-4 to start the game and score just 2 points in the 2nd half. Today was a great step forward for him.

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3 Takeaways:

1) I hate saying someone is "faking" anything, I really do try to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but the mountain of evidence against Trevor Mbakwe is quite large. Had he reached for his back after jumping or something, sure that would make a lot of sense. After all, he did slam it pretty damn hard, but after a game where he's been banging hard all day long – suddenly, magically, you have a reoccurrence of a wrist injury and it comes WELL after the play was over. Sorry, I don't believe you for one second.

2) As clutch as a basket that Traevon Jackson had, am I the only one that thinks he shouldn't be in the game with those situations? He scares the living crap out of me with the ball in his hands and any pressure facing him at all. He just seems to have zero sense of what's going on around him on the offensive side of the ball and his turnovers are going to cost Wisconsin a game in conference play before it's all said and done if he doesn't wake up.

3) For my money the best players on the court for the Badgers in Big Ten play have actually been the youngsters. Maybe it's growing pains together as a team, but somehow the youngsters have been far more clutch and far more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. 

Bonus: George Marshall and Sam Dekker have been hounded about their defense from time to time, but today those two had one of the biggest plays in total late in the action as they were aggressive and did a great job of switching to not allow a drive and nearly causing a turnover before a bailout Tubby Smith TO happened. 

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college football for nearly half a decade. He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadgers.com and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com

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