MINNEAPOLIS – When the calendar turns to February, and you’re on the road, playing your border rival, you couldn’t care less about style points.
Just win, baby.
That is the formula Wisconsin followed Wednesday night at Williams Arena against rival Minnesota.
The Badgers missed a high number of shots in the lane and forced a handful of shots early in the possession but made several key plays down the stretch to prevail, 56-51, in front of a crowd of 14,625.
BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 56, Minnesota 51
BIG TEN: Standings
“You just find a way,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “I’ve been in this league long enough that it is hard on the road.
“And we’re into February now and I just watch the other games, how they are. It is punch for punch. They are slugfests.
“Offense is hard and defenses are geared. We know each other so well we could probably tell you more about the opponent than we could (about) ourselves sometimes.
“You just find a way.”
Gard’s team found a way by being more efficient in the lane in the second half, by playing solid defense throughout, by taking care of the ball and making enough free throws down the stretch.
The Badgers (17-6, 9-3 Big Ten) continued their midseason push toward the top of the league by extending their winning streak to six games.
They moved into a tie for third place with Michigan State (18-5, 9-3), within one-half game of second-place Purdue (16-6, 9-2) and within one game of first-place Michigan (21-2, 10-2).
Next up for UW, which has won seven of its last eight Big Ten road games, is a trip to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines on Saturday.
“It is hard to get wins in the Big Ten, especially on the road,” Ethan Happ said. “So we’re just happy that we came out of here.”
Minnesota (16-7, 6-6) missed a chance to sweep UW for the first time since the 2008-’09 season.
Happ, who tends to start slowly on offense, missed 2 of 8 shots in the first half. He hit 4 of 5 shots after halftime, however, and finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.
UW made just 5 of 18 shots in the paint in the first half but hit 7 of 8 after halftime.
“That’s huge,” Gard said of the turnaround.
Guards Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice, averaging a combined 23.4 points per game in league play, combined for 19 Wednesday.
Trice made just 3 of 10 shots overall but hit a huge three-pointer to give UW a 52-46 lead with 1 minute 44 seconds left and finished with nine points, two assists and zero turnovers.
“Trice made a big shot and we just couldn’t answer,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said.
Davison hit just 1 of 5 three-pointers and 2 of 12 shots overall but hit 5 of 6 free throws, including two with 12.1 seconds left to give UW a 56-49 lead, and finished with 10 points.
Nate Reuvers, who had battled foul trouble in each of the three previous games, hurt Minnesota on both ends of the floor and finished with nine points, eight rebounds and seven blocks.
“I had some turnovers but I just had to try to make plays for my team,” said Reuvers, who one assist and three of UW’s six turnovers. “It was just an old-school Big Ten game and we came out on top.”
Brevin Pritzl (seven points, three rebounds) and Khalil Iverson (six points on 3-for-3 shooting) were solid.
Pritzl entered the night shooting 48 percent from three-point range and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line in league play. He hit his lone three-point attempt and hit all four of his free throws.
“We’ll take contributions from wherever we can get them,” Gard said. “We had a lot of guys put a hand in to help.”
Guard Amir Coffey, who carried the Gophers with 21 points and six rebounds in the victory in Madison, hit just 3 of 10 shots Wednesday and finished with eight points.
“The coaching staff got us very well prepared, watching a lot of film from that game,” Happ said, adding assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft played the role of Coffey on the scout team. “We were ready for what they wanted to get.”
Forward Jordan Murphy, averaging a double-double (14.9 ppg, 11.8 rpg), contributed 16 points and 19 rebounds. Freshman Daniel Oturu added 12 and 11 as the Gophers grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and finished with 15 second-chance points.
The Gophers, who hit 6 of 14 three-pointers in the victory in Madison, entered Wednesday shooting 31.1 percent from three-point range. They hit just 1 of 13 three-pointers (7.7 percent) and 20 of 57 shots overall (35.1 percent).
UW missed 20 of 26 shots in the first half of the teams’ first meeting, trailed by 15 points at the break and went on to suffer a 59-52 loss.
On Wednesday, the Badgers struggled in the first half but made enough three-pointers (4 of 12) to overcome 9-for-32 shooting overall en route to building a 24-21 halftime lead.
They never trailed.
“Defensively I thought we were really good again and we made enough plays down the stretch to extend our lead and close the door,” Gard said. “I’m proud of our guys. A tremendous effort. A gritty group that I’ve got.”