Entering Wednesday, Minnesota had not defeated Wisconsin at The Barn since 2014. While defeating their border rivals may have carried extra importance to the Gophers, the more important streak they needed to break was a two-game losing skid.
Emerging from an offensive slump, Minnesota (12-10, 6-6 Big Ten) made nine 3-pointers in a 70-52 victory over Wisconsin (13-10, 6-6 Big Ten). It was the first time the Gophers managed to score 70 points in a game since Jan. 15. The victory helped them keep pace in the Big Ten and in the running for a NCAA Tournament birth.
"Not only is it Wisconsin, we know it means a lot to our university and our state," said head coach Richard Pitino. "But we want to get back to the NCAA Tournament. We're still in the hunt which is a testament to our new guys being able to come in right away."
From the opening tip, the teams traded blows in a scoring frenzy to start the game. Inserted back into the starting line up after missing last Thursday's game with an injury, redshirt junior Payton Willis connected on two quick 3-pointers and sophomore Daniel Oturu contributed six points. Wisconsin kept close, starting 4-5 from beyond the arc to make the score 18-14 at the first media time out.
A 9-2 run in the following minutes helped Minnesota extend its lead to 11 points, prompting Wisconsin to use a timeout. This worked in slowing the Gophers' offense down, as Minnesota missed eight of their next nine field goals, but the Badgers failed to trim the lead under eight points.
Returning to form, the Gophers found their groove once again after the first half's final media time out, with a 12-3 run over 2:03 that featured a pair of 3-pointers from sophomore Gabe Kalscheur. Minnesota shot 55% from the field in the opening period and scored 45 points after scoring 42 points combined in the first halves of its last two games.
"We missed a lot of lay ups against Illinois," Willis said. "We knew were getting good looks and eventually they would fall for us. It was going to come in due time."
The Gophers wasted no time reinvigorating the raucous home crowd after intermission. Wisconsin possessed the ball first after the break but Minnesota capitalized off of a turnover with a Kalscheur 3-point shot. Then, the Gophers came back down the court after an air-balled three from the Badgers. Oturu fired away from behind the arc, drilling the shot and prompting a Wisconsin time out.
"Those shots were pretty big for us," Oturu said. "At halftime we were talking to each other, saying we had to keep going. We had to go back out there and continue to fight and take it to them. I felt like when we came out of half was a good start for us."
Not long after, Minnesota extended its lead to 20 points, a margin that remained mostly consistent for the remainder of the game. Even as the offense slowed down, the Gophers' defense did not let up, forcing Wisconsin to take contested shots. As a team, the Badgers shot 22.2 percent in the second half, never threatening to come back even though Minnesota made just one field goal in the final eight minutes.
"The story was defensively, in the second half, we did great," Pitino said. "They were hitting a bunch of threes, we needed to stop that, we did a great job holding them to 1-16 [in the second half]."
Willis led the game with 21 points, making 5-7 3-point shots. Kalscheur scored in double-figures as well with 10 points. Oturu scored 17 points and had 14 rebounds to record his 12th double-double of the season. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr came up one rebound short of a triple-double with 12 points and 10 assists.
"He was phenomenal," Pitino said of Carr. "We've only had one guy in the history of the program get a triple-double. Marcus was a rebound away ... he's a warrior, only a sophomore and he just battled his butt off."
Four players finished with double-digit scoring for Wisconsin, led by junior Nate Reuvers with 14 points. Redshirt junior Micah Potter had a double-double, scoring 11 points to go along with a game-leading 15 rebounds.
Up next for Minnesota is a tough weekend road test against No. 22 Penn State, which is coming off of a victory at No. 16 Michigan State.