Within a crowded Big Ten race, Wednesday’s game between Minnesota and Wisconsin felt like it could define the remainder of each team’s season. The difference between a February win and loss is significant, especially in an ultra-competitive conference.
After recently struggling to find the bottom of the net, Minnesota put together one of its most efficient performances in a 70-52 victory over Wisconsin. Redshirt junior Payton Willis led the way with 21 points, including five three-pointers.
Minnesota had four players in double figures and shot 55 percent in the first half. Big man Daniel Oturu dominated in the post, crashed the glass (14 rebounds) and finished with 17 points. The victory breaks a streak of four consecutive home losses to the Badgers. Wisconsin had previously won nine of its last ten games at Williams Arena.
Three-point shooting erupts
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Gophers ranked last in Big Ten play with a 27.1 percent three-point shooting percentage. When looking at recent trends, it’s even worse. Over the past two games, Minnesota shot just 17 percent from downtown. This trend finally changed behind impressive performances from Willis and Gabe Kalscheur. The duo helped Minnesota convert 41 percent (9-for-22) of its three-point attempts. During his past eight outings, Kalscheur shot just 24 percent from behind the arc. In Wednesday’s game, he had 11 points, including a trio of three-pointers.
Willis opened the game with three deep three-pointers to fuel a 7-0 first half run. After missing last week’s game against Illinois (shoulder), Willis returned and drilled open looks. The Gophers were running smooth offensive sets that featured strong ball movement and inside-out action. When a member of the backcourt can hit threes, court spacing instantly improves. The duo of Kalscheur and Willis scored a combined 32 points (11-for-24) and made eight three-pointers. If this balanced trend continues, the Gophers will be very competitive in remaining Big Ten games.
Minnesota's efficient offensive sets
Head coach Richard Pitino beautifully mixed ball screens, dribble penetration, post touches and dribble handoffs. Minnesota also crashed the glass and grabbed 10 offensive boards. Oturu and Alihan Demir each muscled through the lane for a pair of tough put-backs. All night, Oturu’s post touches were efficient and he even stepped outside to hit deep jumpers.
In the opening minutes, Wisconsin drilled four of its first five three-pointers, including a pair of long-range hits by Nate Reuvers. Despite the Badgers' quick start from behind the arc, Minnesota barely missed any open opportunties. It was a welcome sight after seeing the Gophers shoot just 30 percent in the past two games. In the first half, Minnesota shot 55 percent (18-for-33) and took a 13-point lead to halftime. During the same time frame, the Gophers also had just one turnover and outscored Wisconsin 24-8 in the paint.
Right out of halftime, Kalscheur and Oturu drilled back-to-back three-pointers and stretched the Gophers’ lead to 19 points. Minnesota’s collaborative team defense kept Wisconsin in check for most of the night. Everyone was crashing the glass, fighting for loose balls and contesting perimeter jump shots. Overall, the Badgers only shot 28 percent from the floor. In the second half, Wisconsin finished just 1-for-16 from behind the arc. This was a direct result of Minnesota’s defensive energy and strong close-outs. The Gophers were also in excellent rebounding position and won the margin 46-45.
With a combination of efficient scoring and suffocating defense, the Gophers claimed one of their biggest wins of the season.
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Tag(s): Gopher Basketball