What goes up must come down, they say.
The Golden Gophers, after winning eight straight games and having a shot at finishing second in the Big Ten had they won on Sunday, came back to earth with a 66-49 loss against the rival Wisconsin Badgers.
Despite leading 29-27 at halftime, the Gophers were outgunned in the second half by a hot-shooting Badgers team. Bronson Koenig, playing in his final regular season game at the Kohl Center, hit three consecutive 3-pointers down the stretch to stymie any comeback plans the Gophers had. Koenig scored 17 to lead the way for Wisconsin, who nabbed the second seed in the Big Ten and silenced some critics after blowing a late lead Thursday against Iowa.
Minnesota shot just 32 percent from the field and 3 of 13 from beyond the arc. They also had a tough time scoring in the paint thanks to Wisconsin’s strong interior defense coupled with late foul trouble. Jordan Murphy and Reggie Lynch combined for just eight points and were on the bench late in the game with four fouls apiece.
On the bright side for Minnesota, they held Badgers big man Ethan Happ to just nine points after allowing him to score 28 in the teams’ first meeting. Wisconsin broke out of a shooting slump, however, by nailing 50 percent of its long-range shots.
While Nate Mason and Amir Coffey combined for 30 points, the Gophers guards didn’t get much help from Akeem Springs and Dupree McBrayer. Springs, perhaps hampered by a bad back, was held scoreless, while McBrayer shot 2 for 6 and finished with just seven points.
Minnesota scored only 20 points in the second half to finish two points off their season low for the season (47 at Michigan State). The Gophers pulled within six points of the lead at 51-45 after Coffey hit a 3 with 6:20 remaining, but Minnesota didn’t score again until the 2:53 mark and failed to capitalize on two offensive possessions that could’ve brought the deficit to three or four points.
The loss notwithstanding, Minnesota has a lot to be proud of with its regular season, having reversed an 8-23 record from a year ago to become 23-8 (11-7). They’ll receive a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and play Friday at 1:30 p.m. against the winner of Michigan State vs Nebraska/Penn State.