Four days removed from a crushing defeat at home that likely dashed Minnesota's hopes of an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament, the Gophers were playing for bragging rights on Sunday, going for a road victory in Madison, Wisconsin to sweep the season series with the rival Badgers.
Again, a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute toppled Minnesota (13-15, 7-11 Big Ten) in a game that featured 17 lead changes. The Gophers demonstrated resiliency, but effort was not enough to sweep Wisconsin (19-10, 12-6 Big Ten) for the first time since 2009 and snap the Badgers' five-game win streak as they fell 71-69.
"We fought our butts off today," head coach Richard Pitino told the media. "Didn't come out on top, but sometimes when you come off a devastating loss like [Maryland], I love that our young guys did that."
Redshirt sophomore Marcus Carr and sophomore Daniel Oturu combined to score the first 10 points for Minnesota as the Gophers built a seven point lead at the first media time out. When play resumed, Wisconsin responded with an 11-0 run to pull ahead 14-10.
Out of a Gophers time out, Oturu put an end to the Wisconsin run and a 4:40 scoreless drought with a mid-range jumper. Freshman Isaiah Ihnen then put the Gophers back on top seconds later with a 3-pointer. The teams traded the lead again as Minnesota increased its edge to 17-14 but the Badgers went back on top with a pair of buckets.
Overall, nine lead changes occurred in the first half. The final one came with 2:57 left in the period when Wisconsin junior Brad Davison hit a long three to put the Badgers in front 27-24. At intermission, Davison lead all scorers with 13 points with Oturu close behind at 12 points as the Gophers trailed 31-28.
The back-and-forth first half was in stark contrast to Minnesota's 70-52 victory over Wisconsin on Feb. 5, when the Gophers took a lead they never relinquished 45 seconds into the game. After the intermission, the Badgers began to establish command, building the first double-digit lead of the game just under five minutes into the period.
Wisconsin led by as many as 12 points before the Gophers' rallied to tie the contest. Five points from Oturu, Ihnen's second 3-pointer of the game and a basket through contact from senior Alihan Demir highlighted 12 unanswered points from Minnesota to tie the game at 49-49.
With 5:44 remaining, a three from freshman Tre' Williams put Minnesota in front 57-56, its first lead of the half. Three point shooting from Wisconsin kept the game close and with 56 seconds remaining, grad student Brevin Pritzl connected from the corner to put Wisconsin ahead 67-66. Once again, a last-minute three was the difference as the Badgers held on to the lead until the final buzzer.
"They made one more play than us," Pitino told the media. "But I thought our guys, to rebound from a devastating loss at home, showed great grit, great poise. Not a moral victory by any means but I thought our guys executed down the stretch for the most part."
Oturu finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds while Carr totaled 21 points, but the duo received little help as the remaining Gophers combined for 22 points. Free throws and 3-point shooting continued to fail Minnesota as the team went 13-23 from the foul line and 4-19 from behind the arc.
"We're still leaving some points on the free throw line there," Pitino told the media. "Ten points is too many."
Davison bounced back from the first meeting of the year between the rivals in which he did not make a field goal to score a team-high 20 points on Sunday. Pritzl scored 15 points points while redshirt juniors Aleem Ford and Micah Porter posted 10 points each.
With the calendar now turned to March, the Gophers have two regular season games remaining. First is a road tilt against Indiana on Wednesday before closing out at The Barn versus Nebraska on March 8.