Before the Wisconsin men’s basketball team even stepped on the floor and eluded a third consecutive conference loss by the thinnest of margins against Minnesota, questions resounded about how the Badgers would handle the Gophers’ dominance on the glass.
Heading into Wisconsin’s (14-6, 5-2 Big Ten) 45-44 victory over No. 12 Minnesota (15-5, 3-4) at the Kohl Center the Gophers led the country by collecting 48 percent of their missed shots for offensive rebounds. But Saturday proved to be a different story, with the home squad gaining a 35-29 advantage on rebounds and an 11-8 edge on offensive boards.
“We scouted them to being one of the best rebounding teams in the Big Ten and even the nation,” freshman forward Sam Dekker said. “They rebound 50 percent of the shots they miss, so you can see how many points they get off those things.
“Whenever you can do that and keep them off the glass, take their garbage buckets away, it’s going to make it tougher on them.”
The most feared of Minnesota’s warriors of the glass was 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward Trevor Mbakwe, who leads the Big Ten with 8.7 rebounds per game. Mbakwe certainly found his way to the glass Saturday, pulling down 10 rebounds, five of them on the offensive end.
But he was the only Gopher with more than five rebounds to his name against Wisconsin, denying Minnesota the second chances that could have allowed them to earn the road win and end a three-game losing streak.
Ryan Evans led all Wisconsin players with eight rebounds, joined by the efforts of Jared Berggren and Dekker, who finished with seven and six boards, respectively.
“That’s a top rebounding team in the nation, and we showed we could go head-to-head with those guys,” said Evans, who also tied Dekker with a team-high 10 points. “So we’re ready for the Big Ten conference, whatever else is coming our way.”
In a game that came down to a single missed free throw from Rodney Williams in the final two seconds, containing the Gophers’ athleticism and aggressiveness was one of the deciding differences. Minnesota finished the game with four second-chance points (to UW’s 10) on a night where neither team shot better than 37 percent from the floor.
“That’s a very good rebounding team that we just hung with and did a pretty good job competing with them,” Ryan said. “That’s where the game was won for us – defensively and on the glass.”
Hollins takes game into own hands
On three consecutive possessions in the second half, Minnesota point guard Andre Hollins sunk a long jumper just inside the three-point arc, hit a step-back jumper in the lane and then capped his tour de force with a three-pointer.
It was that kind of night for Hollins, who more than doubled the point production of any of his teammates with 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point land.
It marked the sophomore guard’s sixth game this year with at least 20 points, as he currently leads the Gophers with 14.2 points per game. Consistently converting shots with a tough angle or a defender’s hand in his face throughout the game, Ryan said he was not surprised to see Hollins singularly take over the Gophers’ offense at times Saturday.
“Anytime you got a guy who’s had the feel and talking about confidence, when he gets that going – and we had him shooting going to the left, going to the right, step-backs,” Ryan said of the guard who scored 41 points in a November win over Memphis. “If a guy’s standing in one place and he’s hitting five threes in a row, you’ve really got a problem with your defense.
“But you got to give credit to a young man who hit shots in various ways, hunting them down. His form, his ability to draw the foul at the end of the half – those are just good plays made by a good player who offensively believes every shot’s going in.”
Traevon Jackson – the eventual hero in this game after hitting a pull-up jumper from the left elbow with four seconds remaining – spent much of the game defending Minnesota’s standout guard.
Though Jackson said he did a “good job” keeping Hollins as uncomfortable is possible, it was difficult for him to not look overmatched when he watched another fadeaway jumper sail through the net.
Defending Hollins became a game of earning small victories and keeping the Memphis native from taking over the game for the Badgers; not one of shutting him down.
“He got a lot of his points off of screens, and coming off of screens, hitting threes,” Jackson said. “When a guy’s doing that, you can’t really do too much.”