The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Minnesota Gophers in a 71-67 victory on Sunday evening, keeping their season alive as they head to the Big 10 tournament.
With the win, the Badgers end the regular season with a 17-13 record, including 9-11 in the conference, providing them with the 12th seed in the conference tournament, where they will face the Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday at 5:30 PM.
Here are the quick takeaways from Wisconsin’s win on Sunday.
Point Guard Battle
Going into the game, I highlighted the importance of the point-guard battle, as Minnesota’s Ta’lon Cooper and Chucky Hepburn had a good matchup when the two teams faced off earlier in the season.
That proved to be the case on Sunday, as Hepburn finished with 12 points on 50% shooting, while Cooper had eight points and eight assists in the loss.
Hepburn was quiet in the first half, playing just four minutes due to early foul trouble, but exploded in the second half, scoring six early points that led the Badgers back in the game before hitting the game-winning stepback three-pointer to give Wisconsin the lead.
Cooper, like Hepburn, was a non-factor early, shooting 0/5 in the first half, although he compiled five assists, while scoring seven points in the second half.
Cooper had some really nice passes on an off-shooting night, but Hepburn ultimately prevailed in this battle, leading the Badgers back in the second half, while taking two key charges and showcasing why Wisconsin relies heavily on their sophomore point guard.
Coming into the matchup, the Badgers had a clear advantage on three-pointers, shooting nearly 36% from distance, while the Gophers shot just 32% and defended the three at a 36% rate as well, ranking amongst the worst in the conference.
However, it couldn’t have been more irrelevant on Sunday, as the Badgers hit just 3/12 of their three-pointers, while the Gophers actually prevailed in the category, shooting 6/18 from distance.
Instead, Wisconsin focused on the paint, scoring 48 of their 71 points inside the arc, which hasn’t been their norm this season.
The Badgers’ physicality leads to the third key of the game: free throws.
The Wisconsin Badgers haven’t usually been on the right side of the free-throw debacle this season, as they aren’t a team known for their aggressiveness, while they’ve been in foul issues at times as well.
However, on Sunday, the Badgers found the free-throw line 17 times, hitting 14 of those shots, while the Gophers only hit 11 of their 19 shots from the foul line.
The Badgers changed their offensive philosophy with good coaching from head coach Greg Gard on Sunday, fixating on their size advantage inside, feeding Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl heavily, who scored 21 points each on 17/24 shooting combined.
Additionally, guard Chucky Hepburn had a strong game, looking to aggressively get to the rim, which created several good opportunities for the Badgers near the rim.
Connor Essegian created some opportunities as well, shooting 8 of his 10 attempts inside the arc, consistently cutting toward the basket, and hitting some nice layups.
Wisconsin still missed several open shots inside the arc, but they had an impressive offensive night, scoring 71 points, despite fixating on shots inside the arc, shooting 49% from the field.
Defensively, the Badgers need to improve after a porous performance in the first half, where they allowed 60% of Minnesota’s shots to fall, but it was good to see their response in the second half, which ultimately led to their win, alongside some consistent offense inside.