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Minnesota 81, (9) UW 68: Last word

By ZACH HEILPRIN
 
MINNEAPOLIS - The best start in the history of the program is a distant memory for the University of Wisconsin (16-3, 3-3). The Gophers (15-5, 4-3) made sure of that in an 81-68 victory on Wednesday night. The loss was the Badgers third-straight and left them at .500 in Big Ten play.
 
Players of the game: Maurice Walker/Deandre Mathieu
 
Coming into the game Walker was averaging 4.9 points per game. With Andre Hollins injuring his ankle on Minnesota’s first possession – and the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky exiting with two fouls at the 17:32 mark -- Walker took over. He had 14 points before the break and finished with 18 on the night – a career-high.
 
“He’s a big body,” Josh Gasser said. “He’s a good player. He has improved, and we knew that going in. He got too deep a position sometimes. he got exactly what he wanted – he got the block, and they got the ball. It’s hard to guard him.”
 
Walker did most of his damage against Nigel Hayes, but Zach Bohannon and Vito Brown also took turns guarding the junior.
 
Wisconsin did a much better job on him in the second half, as the 7-foot Kaminsky was tougher to deal with than the 6-foot-7 Hayes. But then Mathieu got hot and the Badgers had no answer.
 
Limited to five points in the first half, the junior college transfer hit a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half. That forced the Badgers to guard him closer and the lightning quick Mathieu took advantage. He got in the lane at will, finishing over bigger players and bailing the Gophers out late in the shot clock. He ended the game with 18 points on 8 of 13 shooting.
 
“Mathieu is really good attacking the hoop, attacking off that ball screen,” Gasser said. “He’s really quick and we knew that obviously. But he hit a couple jumpers that forced us to play that as well, so he was kind of feeling it a little bit there. But again we’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to keep working it and stop talking about it and just do it.”
 
The good: Sam Dekker’s aggressiveness
 
It didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things but Dekker was extremely aggressive in the second half. He finished with a team-high 20 points – one of just two Badgers in double figures. He was just 1 of 4 from behind the arc but he took the ball to rim a ton and was able to get baskets in traffic. He was 5 of 8 on 2-point shots and drew contact a number of times as well. Coming into the game he was shooting 59.1-percent from the free throw line, but Dekker capitalized when he got to the stripe against the Gophers, going 7 of 8.
 
The bad: Interior defense
 
It’s become a familiar problem in this three-game losing streak. The lack of depth in the frontcourt showed when Kaminksy went out early in the first half with foul trouble. Walker dominated the true freshman Hayes and no one else could do much better. In the second half, and with Kaminsky in the game, the Badgers couldn’t stop the dribble penetration of Mathieu. It was reminiscent of Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell just last Tuesday as well as quick guards from throughout the season.
 
“It’s very frustrating,” Sam Dekker said. “It’s something you don’t want to do and it’s something that’s very bold on our list right now that we have to correct. And we have to buckle down now. There’s not much else you can say other than we have to be better in every aspect of the defensive end. Usually we take pride in it and this is embarrassing the way we’re playing.”
 
Stat of the game:48 and 58.9
 
The first number is points in the paint the Badgers gave up and the second is the shooting percentage for the Gophers on the night.
 
Including Wednesday, Wisconsin has now allowed 126 points in the paint over the past three games – or 42-per contest. It’ll be tough to win games in the Big Ten allowing that kind of production, which in turn leads to high percentage shots. Minnesota’s 58.9-percent was the highest for a Badgers opponent this season but it also marked the third-straight game of over 50-percent.
 
“I think all five guys on the court at one time can take ownership of something they did wrong again tonight,” Dekker said. “The thing we’re not happy about is we keep making the same mistakes. We’ve got to correct that because teams aren’t going to feel sorry for us if we’re not playing good defense.”
 
Odds and ends:
 
The 81 points scored by Minnesota was the most the Badgers had given up against the Gophers since they scored 109-78 victory in 1994.
 
Badgers’ guard Traevon Jackson has 17 assists and 17 turnovers in his last five games.
 
What’s next?
 
Wisconsin will try to snap the three-game losing streak when they travel to Purdue on Saturday.
 
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin

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