The next chapter of the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry will unfold tonight, as Wisconsin plans to add to their two-game winning streak.
It was a big weekend for both teams. On Saturday, the Golden Gophers ceased a three game slide. Sunday, the Badger upset power house Michigan State, throwing themselves right back into the fight for Big Ten positioning.
Round one of 2014 border battle belonged to Minnesota. On January 22, the Golden Gophers ran all over the Badgers in a 81-68 victory. Gopher sixth man Mo Walker broke out of his shell and had himself a career night. After, he let reporters know that “Nobody likes the Badgers.”
Walker better be prepared to swallow his words. Soon as he checks in, 17,000 fans will gladly reassure him otherwise.
It seems as if Wisconsin has finally gained back momentum, but Badger fans shouldn’t relax. UW has lost three of its last four home games. In order to keep the ball rolling the Badgers must rely on three keys for tonights game.
Last month, the Gophers bench combined for 41 points. Maurice Walker and Malik Smith both reached double digits. The Badgers couldn’t counter, only accumulating 15 points of their own. Tonight will have to be different if the Badgers want win.
Other than Nigel Hayes, UW’s bench is relatively average. Very rarely do they impact games. This can be put on coach Bo Ryan, who seldom ventures deep into his bench. There’s his core group of players and he sticks to them. Of the 14 man roster, only eight players have played in ten games this season.
Last month in Minneapolis, coach Ryan was forced to bring in Zach Bohannon and Vitto Brown. The two had been strangers to the court all season and it certainly showed. Each only played two minutes; but when in, the Badgers looks completely out of sync.
Minnesota’s bench will be tough. Coach Richard Pitino has an assortment of talent at his disposal. Look to see how Bo Ryan will counter when Pitino makes his substitutions. Will Ryan stick with his guns or will we see some unfamiliar faces?
The battle of the bigs should be a good one. Once the ball is tipped, starters Frank Kaminsky and Elliot Eliason will go right at it. Frank however, will have to be careful. On January 22, the first half ended abruptly for Kaminsky. He was called for two fouls in the opening three minutes. He has the clear advantage on Eliason who is shorter and less versatile. Offense may be Kaminsky’s game, but tonight’s key will have to be defense. Last month, the Gophers scored a whopping 46 points in the paint. Kaminsky will have to anchor the defense without drawing fouls, but he can’t do it alone.
Once Kaminsky and Eliason need breathers the real fun begins. Freshman phenom Nigel Hayers and breakout star Maurice Walker will then tangle down low. Maurice Walker couldn’t be more excited to face the Badgers. In their last matchup, Walker dominated, recording career highs in both scoring and rebounding. Hayes, however, is no push over-literally. The 6-foot-7, 250 pound freshman has the build of an NFL linebacker.
Walker dropped 65 pounds this summer and he may be wishing he had some of it back tonight. Hayes will not back down. No matter who decides to guard him, the freshman will not show mercy. He fearlessly went to work against each Spartan who dared to defend him Sunday. Expect the same tonight soon as soon as Nigel checks in.
When Traevon Jackson has it all going, these Badgers are tough to beat. The point guard’s versatility makes him one of the best in the conference. He leads the team with four assists per game. Jackson also can crash the boards. His four rebounds a game rank him second among Big Ten point guards. Turnovers do occur with Jackson, but for the most part his assist-to-turnover ratio remains solid. At times he seems like a liability running Bo Ryan’s swing offense, but in reality he manages it well. His on court command reflects statistically, as the Badgers rank 5th in turnovers per play.
Traevon struggled with shooting in the month of January but in the past two games Jackson has found his rhythm, shooting 58 percent. All signs of his slump came to an end Sunday as he provided the game winning shot to defeat Michigan State.
Jackson will be up against Andre Hollins, who has been battling a sprained ankle ever since he landed on Josh Gasser’s foot three weeks ago. Hollins believes the ankle will be 95 percent come game time. If Treavon Jackson were smart, he would be sure to test every bit of that remain five the second he gets the ball.