Behind a blistering hot first half, No. 6 Wisconsin handled Minnesota in Minneapolis, 76-63, to sweep the season series and clinch the outright Big Ten title heading into Sunday's regular season finale.
The championship is the 18th in program history and the fourth of Bo Ryan's illustrious career at UW.
Wisconsin (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten) stormed out of the gates, racing to a 7-0 lead as Minnesota (17-13, 6-11) started a chilly 0-for-6 from the field. Senior Frank Kaminsky showed off his entire repertoire of moves, scoring from inside and out en route to 16 first-half points. Kaminsky finished with a game-high 25 points, six rebounds and career-best seven assists.
Sam Dekker added 14 points of his own before the break as UW's lead continued to swell. At times, Wisconsin's offense just seemed to be toying with the Gopher defense.
The Badgers sank 17-of-27 (63%) shots overall, compared to the respectable 14-of-33 (42.4%) shooting by Minnesota. Wisconsin took its biggest lead, 36-16, on a Harlem Globetrotter-like play by Nigel Hayes with 6:30 left, before the Gophers stormed back.
Aided by a short flurry of turnovers, Minnesota made a game of it with a 13-2 run of their own by getting out in the open floor, exposing one of Wisconsin's few weaknesses.
Minnesota senior Andre Hollins hit a tough three-pointer of his own at the buzzer over Kaminsky to carry some momentum into the locker room, though Wisconsin still led 44-34.
Consecutive Kaminsky assists for three-pointers by Bronson Koenig and Dekker were the key shots that prevented a complete collapse to close the half. Wisconsin shot 7-of-10 behind the arc in the first half, including Duje Dukan's first triple since Feb. 10.
Bench play was again an issue for Wisconsin, whose starters played all but 15 minutes of the game combined. Dukan, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown combined for just three points and one rebound in relief.
Joey King opened the scoring in the second half to cut the Badger lead to seven. Meanwhile, Wisconsin looked sloppy turning several easy plays into missed opportunities due to a bad pass or soft finish. The team started the second half shooting just 3-for-15 (20%) before snapping out of it.
Minnesota got within six points, 46-40, minutes later but would only get within eight points once more the rest of the way.
Dekker and Kaminsky stopped the bleeding temporarily with a 5-0 mini-run to nurse the lead back to 11. Hayes picked up the slack on the boards, grabbing seven of his nine rebounds in the second half.
With no reliable substitutions available, Wisconsin's starters resorted to doing just enough to stay out of danger. A big three-pointer by Gasser here, a blocked shot by Kaminsky and saved ball by Dekker there always kept the Gophers at bay when they started to build continuity. It was almost as if the Badgers were conserving energy for Minnesota's final push.
But the Gophers' last charge never materialized.
A Hayes jumper gave UW a 62-49 lead with 6:27 left and Wisconsin entered the bonus one minute later. Hayes added 12 points to Dekker's 20, as the Badgers also made 10-of-12 free throws.
Back-to-back scores from the previously quiet Koenig punctuated the finality and Minnesota conceded rather than parade UW to the charity stripe.
Nate Mason's 15 points led the home team.
With the win, Wisconsin snapped a two-game skid at Williams Arena and completed its first major goal of the 2014-15 season. The Badgers will try to close out the regular season on an even higher note, when they face Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday afternoon, with a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament still alive.
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