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February 14, 2013

Late-game mistakes doom Badgers





MINNEAPOLIS - For the first few minutes of the game, it looked like the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers would be able to grind their way to a win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. But scoring droughts and mental errors bit the Badgers late in the game, and the Gophers came back to upset Wisconsin 58-53 in overtime.

Wisconsin's biggest mistake came with just 22 seconds left in the game, when they were up 2 points and trying to get the ball out of bounds following a turnover from Minnesota's Andre Hollins. Senior forward Mike Bruesewitz took one step too many while trying to get the ball in bounds, and the officials called him for a turnover. Bruesewitz's mental mistake led to two game-tying free throws from Hollins, and the Badgers would go on to score just four points in the extra period.

But Bruesewitz's error was far from the only one the Badgers made in the game. They also turned the ball over 11 times, and failed to score in the game's final five minutes. It's hard enough to win on the road in the Big Ten, but the Badgers said they made it harder on themselves against the Gophers by getting away from their base philosophies.

"If we execute the way we're capable of and the way we have been recently down the stretch, we probably survive and get out of here in regulation with the win," senior forward Jared Berggren said after the game. "But that's not the case. We got a little stagnant. We let their pressure get us a little bit. We just didn't make plays when we had to step up."

The Badgers jumped out to an early 10-point lead after forcing the Gophers to shoot just 30 percent from the floor in the first 17 minutes of the game. It looked like the Badgers were about to put the Gophers away, but Minnesota came back and finished the half on an 8-0 run that gave them some momentum to start the second half.

The Badgers were living on the edge after halftime, and trailed by 3 points with 11 minutes to play in the game. But they snapped out of another shooting funk thanks to an 8-0 run by freshman forward Sam Dekker, who led the Badgers with 14 points in the game.

But the Badgers would score just 6 more points in regulation, and Bruesewitz's mental mistake robbed them of a chance to ice the game at the free throw line. Instead, they had to try and break their shooting slump with 17 seconds left in the game. But point guard Traevon Jackson got tied up in a Minnesota double-team, and the Badgers had to settle for overtime for the third straight game.

"I just didn't make a play. I thought I got fouled, but I've got to make a play and they're not going to call a foul in that situation," Jackson said after the game. "I didn't get the shot off. It is what it is."

The Badgers shot just 30.5 percent from the floor in the game, including just 25 percent on 3-pointers. They were able to hold Minnesota to 36.7 percent shooting, but allowed the Gophers to make up their halftime deficit by shooting 45 percent from the floor in the second half.

The Badgers also made just 10-of-17 free throws in the game, and made just 1-of-6 down the stretch while they were clinging to a 48-43 lead. Ryan Evans' free throw struggles continued, as the senior forward made just 2-of-8 shots from the line in the game, including 1-of-4 in the game's final five minutes. It wasn't the first time this season that poor free throw shooting has cost the Badgers, but Ryan said there isn't much more he can do to try and address Evans' struggles at the line.

"If he makes his free throws, we're out of here. We're on the plane already," Ryan said. "What am I going to do with the guy? You knew it was going to get us one game- hopefully not two."

The loss dropped the Badgers into a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten, along with No. 4 Michigan and No. 13 Ohio State. But even though the Badgers are just two games out of first place, their loss to Minnesota could well be the game that keeps them from winning the Big Ten outright this season.

"There's a lot of games left, but if things come out where we do end up a game short or something like that, this is definitely one we can look back on and have some regrets," Berggren said.

bo Ryan, Post Minn (2/14/13)

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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