MADISON, Wis. -- What a final 90 seconds for Traevon Jackson.
Down 43-41, it was Jackson -- not one of the seniors, not Ben Brust, and not freshman sensation Sam Dekker -- who drilled a confident mid-range jumper to tie the Golden Gophers (15-5, 3-4 Big Ten) with 1:04 remaining. And with 39.1 seconds left it was Jackson who controlled the final possession; it was Jackson who nailed the 18-footer at the shot clock buzzer (controversially, but shot clock calls are non-reviewable by NCAA rules) to give the Badgers (14-6, 5-2 Big Ten) a 45-43 lead with 2.1 seconds to go.
The ball bounced all around the rim as a tense Kohl Center watched. As Jackson said, "It hit a little bit of the front rim, it hit a little of the back rim, and I was like 'That's going in,' and then it went in."
Still, there was plenty of drama packed into the final 2.1 seconds -- Trevor Mbakwe was fouled on an inbounds pass but was unable to return due to a wrist injury (again, controversially, as Mbakwe was the worst free throw shooter on the floor). The Badgers selected Rodney Williams (64.9 percent entering the game, 1-for-2 in the game) to take Mbakwe's free throws. Williams swished the first but the second ricocheted off the back iron into Dekker's waiting hands to end the game.
But the story is Jackson. The sophomore guard struggled offensively and defensively early in the game, with three turnovers and a few other careless mistakes earning him bench time in favor of George Marshall. But he was the one who stepped up. His three jump shots in the last 7:07 accounted for six of the Badgers' eight points, and he was seemingly the only one in white who could put the ball in the basket -- from anywhere on the court.
It was clear Jackson wanted the ball in his hands on the last pair of possessions despite shooting issues all season (34.8 percent) and particularly the last two games (3-for-18, 16.7 percent). They didn't faze him.
"Nah, I didn't have any doubt," Jackson said, "I just felt that I needed to step up and I needed to hit the shots."
"If you're going to be a player, you have to be that way," Coach Bo Ryan said. "You can't tell me that any player doesn't say, 'I want it right here, let me make the play.' People who have the mindset of being a competitor, there isn't any other thought process."
Jackson combined with Marshall and Dekker for a veritable youth revolution -- the trio poured in 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting (5-of-11 on three-pointers). The rest of the team shot just 7-of-25 (28 percent) on the game.
Ryan Evans praised the youth movement. "To have younger guys come in there and be the X-factor, when the older guys are struggling from the field, that's huge, that's just a remarkable stat for our younger guys to come in there and do that for us. When everybody gets going, we're going to be a tough team to stop."
But not everybody was going Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin's pair of Minnesotan senior starters, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz, were practically invisible. Bruesewitz was held scoreless on three shots, grabbed just three rebounds and committed the foul putting Williams on the line. Berggren scored just two points on seven shots and bricked all three of his three-point attempts.
Most of the Minnesota starters were similarly invisible. Austin Hollins (1-of-10 FG), Rodney Williams (0-of-6) and Joe Coleman (1-of-6) each scored just two points. The squad was carried by Andre Hollins (20 points, 7-of-13 FG) and Mbakwe (eight points, 10 rebounds).
Andre Hollins's aggressiveness was the key to his scoring outburst, as he was able to carve out open jumpers all day. "He's a player who believes every shot is going in," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. But that aggressiveness turned against him in the final minute, as he barreled into Ben Brust for an offensive foul with the game tied 43-43 with 39.1 seconds to go.
Defensively, the Badgers continued to look elite in conference play. Minnesota's 44 points came on 51 possessions -- 86.2 points per 100 possessions, their second-worst output of the season to date. It marked the fifth time the Badgers have held a Big Ten opponent under 90 points per 100 possessions in seven tries, a mark they achieved just three times through the conference slate (including conference tournament) last season. Overall, the Badgers are allowing just 89.6 points per 100 possessions to Big ten opponents. Ohio State entered the day second at 91.1.
Wisconsin handled the nation's best offensive rebounding team as well -- Minnesota entered the game hauling in 48 percent of its own misses, but they pulled in just eight of 30 misses Saturday afternoon (26.7 percent, its second-worst mark of the season). Wisconsin entered the game with the 12th-best defensive rebound rate in the country at 74.6 percent, and the rebounding of players like Berggren (seven rebounds) and Evans (eight) continues to be a huge asset.
The Badgers dodged a bullet considering a three-point play at the end of the first half: with 1.5 seconds remaining, Sam Dekker sent a full court pass way over everybody on the court, giving the Gophers an in-bounds under their own basket. Andre Hollins drew a three-point shooting foul off George Marshall and nailed all three with 0.2 seconds left in the first half, tying the game at 24.
Shooting remains an issue. the team shot just 37 percent from the field on the game and went just 4-of-8 from the free throw line -- including two misses on the front end of 1-and-1s. Ryan Evans went 2-of-4, Sam Dekker went 2-of-3 and Zach Bohannon missed his only attempt of the night.
"We might shoot better if the light went out," Ryan quipped.
But for now, the Badgers sit at 5-2 in the country's toughest conference, just one game behind Michigan State for the conference lead. Saturday's victory over a highly ranked Minnesota squad -- 12th in the AP rankings, 9th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings -- shows the power of Wisconsin's excellent defense and rebounding, even if the shooting is yet to -- and may never -- arrive.