The No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers managed to take down Minnesota on Wednesday night 68-67 in a Border Battle matchup that came down to the wire. While the Badgers earned the season sweep in dramatic fashion, it was more importantly another big win to keep pace in the conference race.
Let’s look back at some of the major storylines that emerged from the victory.
Wisconsin #Badgers men’s basketball: UW outlasts Minnesota to earn a Border Battle sweep— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) February 24, 2022
Minnesota natives Tyler Wahl and "Big" Steven Crowl had great games for the Badgers in the win. https://t.co/GsLXT2apcq pic.twitter.com/1xIx2BcRbs
Three things that stood out...
No. 1: Wisconsin bigs + Jordan Davis
With the Badgers backcourt playing shorthanded, the starting frontcourt of Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl stepped up. The two Minnesota natives combined for 20 pounds on 9-of-14 shooting and helped the Badgers outscore the Gophers 24-12 in the paint in the first half. Both players have been steady contributors this year, but early on the two bigs were aggressive on offensive regardless of if Minnesota was in man-to-man or a zone defense.
“Tyler is kind of a jack of all trades. He does more than what they can put in the stat sheet for us,” Greg Gard said after the game.
The second half was not quite as kind to Wahl outside of offensive rebounds, but Crowl added another 10 points and on 3-of-4 shooting. Beyond their ability to impact the game in the scoring column on the night, they also played a key role in Wisconsin’s +19 overall rebounding advantage and 10 team offensive rebounds.
Wisconsin’s bigs came up huge on Wednesday night and the starting tandem of Crowl and Wahl lead the way. Even with both players playing through some foul trouble in the second half, the duo combined for 32 points, 17 rebounds, and four assists in the game.
When the game was on the line late, and Johnny Davis was fouled out, Crowl came up with a huge score late in the shot clock and Wahl had a crucial tip out to give the Badgers an extra possession that led to a pair of free throws by Brad Davison to ultimately give the Badgers the victory.
Another key contributor who stepped up in the absence of Jahcobi Neath and Lorne Bowman was Jordan Davis. “I was really happy for Jordan. We have a little motto ‘stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,’” Gard said postgame. “Jordan had a little bounce [before the game], he stayed the course, he works hard and he’s a phenomenal teammate.”
The sophomore wing played a season-high 20 minutes and added seven points, two rebounds, and two assists off the bench, with a huge defensive swipe late in the game as well. He had waited his turn for much of the season, but Davis came up big in the road win.
“We’re not just a one man team, no offense because he’s my brother.” - Jordan Davis, chuckling after being asked about Johnny fouling out.— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) February 24, 2022
No. 2: Help defense
Jamison Battle was able to get to the rim too easily at times against the Badgers in the first half. Wisconsin did not do a good job in terms of on-ball defense or in terms of help defense for that matter.
The Gophers rely heavily on the three-point shot, which likely limited the ability of the Badgers to float too far away from their man, but Minnesota was able to take advantage of some poor defense and execution for most of the first half. As a result, the Gophers shot over 50% from the floor during the first 20 minutes of the game and averaged 1.2 points per possession.
Credit to Greg Gard though, as the Badgers absolutely flipped the script midway through the second half as Minnesota was unable to make a basket for over four minutes which allowed Wisconsin to open up an eight-point lead at one point.
Unfortunately, Payton Willis would take advantage of the extra attention to the lane and go on a personal run to tie the game up at 59 with 4:19 remaining. From there though the Badgers would tighten up just enough to salt the game away and exit on top.
Overall, Wisconsin’s defensive effort was not perfect, but once again they did enough in a close contest.
No. 3: Fouls + finish
As mentioned earlier, the Badgers got into some foul trouble in the second half. The Gophers were into the bonus with just under 14 minutes of the game remaining and Wisconsin star guard Johnny Davis wound up fouling out of the game with two and a half minutes remaining. Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl also battled whistles, as Wahl finished the game with four fouls and Crowl had three.
Even with the foul trouble, and multiple reserves unable to play, the Badgers found a way to win another close game. Add in the fact that they were coming off of an emotional roller coaster following the postgame fiasco against Michigan and were in a hostile environment against a border rival, Wednesday night's win was incredibly important.
With the victory, Wisconsin remains in the thick of things for a Big Ten regular-season championship and improves to 13-1 in games decided by six points or less, with the only loss being without Johnny Davis against No. 11 Providence.
“It was a lot of fun having my family here and playing in front of them,” Minnesota native Big Steve Crowl— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) February 24, 2022
Up next: The Badgers will be out for revenge on Saturday against Rutgers. The game is set to take place at the RAC in Piscataway and will be aired on BTN at 5 p.m. CT.