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Men's basketball: Gophers fall in rematch with Badgers

USA TODAY Sports Wisconsin guard Ben Brust, right, passes the ball to teammate Josh Gasser as Minnesota guard Austin Hollins looks on during the first half Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis.

By Marcus R. Fuller

St. Paul Pioneer Press

MADISON, Wis. — The last time the Gophers played — and beat — Wisconsin, they had the benefit of playing at home and being emotionally charged after leading scorer Andre Hollins went down with an injury on the first play.

But it was a much different situation in Minnesota’s 78-70 loss Thursday night against the No. 21 Badgers at the Kohl Center.

The Gophers (16-9, 5-7) lacked the intensity and aggressiveness early that propelled them to the upset win two weeks ago against their border rival.

Minnesota had won only once in its past 16 meetings in Madison — and that was in overtime in 2009.

Hollins looked to be 100 percent healthy in his third game back from a sprained ankle suffered on the first play of the Jan. 22 game with the Badgers.

Hollins scored 16 of his 22 points in the second half, including 12 points during a 18-8 run that brought the Gophers within 70-65 with 1:18 remaining.

Senior guard Malik Smith also broke out of a three-game slump with 10 of his 14 points in the second half.

Smith had scored just 14 points while shooting 2 for 17 from three-point range in the three games since scoring 29 points with eight three-pointers against Nebraska on Jan. 26.

Smith’s fourth three-pointer cut it to 73-68 with less than a minute to play Thursday, but that was as close as the Gophers would get.

The Gophers beat Wisconsin 81-68 last month without Hollins, who missed the next two games, but that win came about mostly because of a dominant inside performance from backup center Mo Walker, who scored 18 points.

Walker had been averaging 14.2 points in his past five games, but he was scoreless and did not attempt a field goal in the first half Thursday. The 6-foot-10 junior finished with five points after being limited with foul trouble.

DeAndre Mathieu, who scored 18 in the previous meeting, had six of his eight points in the first half.

The Badgers (20-5, 7-5) trailed 14-7 after Smith’s three-pointer with 13:20 remaining in the first half.

Smith drilled another three that would have made it a 10-point advantage on the ensuing possession, but the basket was negated after Walker was called for an offensive foul.

Walker left the game, and the Badgers went on a 28-14 run to take a 35-28 halftime lead.

Gophers coach Richard Pitino decided to start Walker in the second half for the third straight game, but it backfired this time.

Walker went to the bench again less than two minutes into the second half with no points and his third foul.

Minnesota had a season high 48 points in the paint in the last meeting against Wisconsin but had only eight in the first half Thursday.

Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky was dominated by Walker last month but returned the favor in the rematch with 17 points.

Kaminsky’s two free throws gave the Badgers their biggest lead of the game 62-47 with 5:43 left in the game.

Ben Brust led Wisconsin with 20 points.

Pitino avoided talking about NCAA tournament expectations after his team snapped a three-game losing streak with a win Saturday against Indiana. That kept the Gophers from possibly falling off the bubble for an at-large bid.

Minnesota’s loss to Wisconsin isn’t a huge blow to the resume, but Sunday’s game at Northwestern (12-13, 5-7) has the potential to negatively affect the Gophers’ postseason aspirations.

The Wildcats defeated the Badgers 55-54 in Minneapolis on Feb. 1.

The Gophers likely need at least a few more victories to feel good about their NCAA tournament chances.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.