If the Twitter account for the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ basketball student section is any indication, Wisconsin Badgers junior Brad Davison will be in for quite a welcome when he returns to the Twin Cities on Wednesday.
The Maple Grove, Minn., product, known for his physical style of play that has agitated opponents and their fans in Davison’s first three college seasons, is coming off a one-game suspension after an apparent shot to the groin of Iowa’s Connor McCaffery as Davison worked around a screen.
“We expect all of our student-athletes to compete and play hard; however, they must always do so in a civil manner that is consistent with the rules of the game and in the spirit of good sportsmanship,” new Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement last week. “We will not tolerate behavior that compromises the health and safety of our student-athletes or crosses the line of aggressive, competitive play, especially when a pattern of similar behavior has been previously established.”
Hope our guys seriously consider wearing cups next week. https://t.co/pH4egwHjWg
— The Barnyard (@BarnyardUMN) January 28, 2020
Davison has been caught on video appearing to deliver similar blows. He tripped Minnesota’s Nate Mason during a game his freshman year and appeared to stick his foot under a leaping Jordan Murphy last season so the Gophers senior would land on Davison’s foot.
Between’s Davison’s track record against the Gophers, his recent suspension and the overall rivalry between the two bordering schools, Wednesday night’s atmosphere should be electric. The school is promoting a “Gold Out” for the 8 p.m. tip.
“Especially being from Minnesota you always want to be able to beat Wisconsin,” Oturu said, “so you want to give [the fans] the best effort you can.”
Minnesota knocked off Wisconsin at the Kohl Center last January but lost the rematch at Williams Arena, 56-51. The Gophers haven’t beaten the Badgers at home since Jan. 22, 2014, the first year of Richard Pitino’s head coaching tenure. In the years since, Wisconsin’s roster has featured a steady diet of Twin Cities recruits who have crossed state borders to play for the Badgers. This year’s Wisconsin team features five Twin Cities natives, including forwards Tyler Wahl and Nathan Reuvers — both from Lakeville North — who started in Wisconsin’s 64-63 upset of Michigan State last Saturday without Davison.
“Obviously it was a big crowd, an important game, nationally televised game versus the first place team in the league,” Pitino said. “They still got a lot of really good pieces where they are older and disciplined. They play great defense, you have to give them credit. That was a big win for them. I’m sure it was a momentum builder for them.”
After two consecutive losses against Michigan State and Illinois, the Gophers (11-10, 5-6) could use a momentum-building victory of their own with just nine games remaining in the regular season and an NCAA Tournament resume to bolster. Pitino said the team is aware of many storylines heading into Wednesday’s tilt but can’t let them affect his team’s discipline.
“We play them every year,” said Pitino. “We watch all the games and understand all the story lines and all the narratives just like everybody else does, so we just talk about what we need to do to win the game and that is really it.”
It’s been a tough junior year for Davison, who’s seen his stats drop off while dealing with national scrutiny over his on-court behavior. Davison was averaging 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game prior to his suspension.
Without addressing Davison’s antics, Pitino used Oturu as an example of playing the game emotionally without crossing a line.
“He’s emotional in a good way,” Pitino said. “I think that Daniel, he’s got a youthful exuberance about him. He wants to dunk and then he wants to yell into the student section. He wants to flex when he makes a wide-open layup. He wants to do those things, and good for him, but that’s part of playing college basketball, doing it the right way. … The biggest thing with all this — as you watch any sport — is that you can compete at an insanely high level and try to go at your opponent the right way.”
The Gophers should get guard Payton Willis back in the lineup Wednesday night after the junior missed Minnesota’s last game at Illinois, a 59-51 loss.
Willis missed time with an ankle injury earlier in the season and has recently dealt with a left shoulder ailment.
Considering the Gophers’ league-worst bench, Minnesota could use Willis’ shooting ability on the court. He is second on the team in made 3s and fourth in scoring at 8.3 points per game.
“He’s clearly been hobbled,” said Pitino. “I think he lost a step a little bit when that ankle injury happened, because he was really a nice option. Shooting the ball very, very well. He’s been kind of swimming upstream a little bit. … But very, very important for us to have him. He’s got experience for one, which is very, very important, and he can hit some shots.”
The Gophers got a reprieve in their schedule after last Thursday’s game. The six days between contests was their longest break since late December, allowing time for players like Willis to heal.
MINUTES FOR IHNEN
With Willis out against Illinois, freshman Isaiah Ihnen received 16 minutes off the bench, his second-longest stretch of playing time this season. With the Gophers shooting 28 and 32 percent, respectively, in their last two games, the well-regarded recruit from Germany could be looked to more often to provide an offensive spark. Ihnen is shooting 3 of 8 while appearing in six conference games.
Though he hasn’t received much of a look on the court until now, Ihnen has been working on his body throughout the season to improve his defensive potential against Big Ten power forwards.
“I was talking to our strength coach, and he’s put on about 20 pounds,” Pitino said. “I think you can visibly, if you look at him, he’s put on weight. Credit to him because he’s committed to doing it. And then sticking with it. He had a lot of games where he didn’t play much. I told him, ‘Stick with it, we’re still excited about you. We still believe in you.'”