Wisconsin vs. Minnesota recap: Badgers drop third straight

Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin could not overcome Maurice Walker's career night, and now three straight games have been lost primarily from poor defensive effort.

Stop if you've heard this before, Badger fans: Wisconsin struggled to play defense. The Badgers never held a lead at any point Wednesday night, and ultimately lost another road conference game to Minnesota, 81-68.

It was a rough start for the Gophers, with leading scorer Andre Hollins leaving 17 seconds into game with an ankle injury. He never returned, but Frank Kaminsky picked up his second foul with 17:28 left in the half, and that's when Maurice Walker went to work. Walker scored 12 first-half points, exceeding his previous career high of 11. The Badgers attempted to defend Walker with Nigel Hayes, Zach Bohannon and Vitto Brown, but Walker overpowered them all and finished with 18 points and nine rebounds.

Sam Dekker and Hayes did their best to keep Wisconsin in the game. Dekker led the Badgers with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while Hayes hit a couple of mid-range jumpers early and displayed excellent footwork and quickness in the post to finish with 12 points. Without Kaminsky for much of the first half, the Badgers became too comfortable shooting jump shots and finished a miserable 5-of-20 from three-point range.

But the story of this game was the continued lack of defense. Minnesota shot 59 percent from the field and scored 46 points in the paint. In the first half, Walker did most of his damage in the low block. In the second half, Wisconsin could not stop the dribble drive of guard Deandre Mathieu. Time and again, Mathieu would dribble into the lane unchecked and finished with 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting.

Eighty-one points is the second-most points allowed on the season for the Badgers. It is also the fifth straight game in which they have allowed 70 or more. Although man-to-man defense has been a staple of Bo Ryan's teams since the beginning of time, this year might warrant playing some zone. The trouble on defense stretches all the way down the roster. A lack of communication on ball screens continues to plague the Badgers, and in a play that summarized the night, Dekker and Brust got caught in between defensive rotations and let Austin Hollins drive down the lane for a SportsCenter top-10-worthy dunk.

As embarrassing as this loss was, all is not lost for the Badgers' season. Winning the Big Ten will be significantly more challenging, but this team still has the talent to compete with anyone in the country. The Big Ten is still arguably the nation's finest conference, and winning on the road anywhere is not easy. This Badger team bears a strong resemblance to last year's Michigan squad, which went undefeated in non-conference games but dropped five Big Ten games and still went to the Final Four. The defensive issues may not get completely solved, but Ryan can be counted on to have his teams playing better as the season progresses.

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