Men's College Basketball: Kaminsky leads fifth-ranked Wisconsin past Minnesota
MADISON, Wisconsin -- When the Gophers beat Wisconsin a year ago, they were facing a team suffering through a losing streak and trying to figure out its identity.
MADISON, Wisconsin - When the Gophers beat Wisconsin a year ago, they were facing a team suffering through a losing streak and trying to figure out its identity.
The Badgers eventually got it together to make a Final Four run.
They could be even better this year behind senior Frank Kaminsky. Meanwhile, the Gophers could be a lot worse because their seniors are failing to lead consistently.
Fifth-ranked Wisconsin continued its longest Big Ten winning streak in more than 70 years on Saturday with its 10th straight win in a 63-53 victory Saturday against Minnesota at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has a three-game lead in Big Ten race.
Kaminsky scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the first half for the Badgers (25-2, 13-1), who have a two-game lead in the Big Ten title race.
While a Wisconsin senior has carried his team this year, a Minnesota senior was benched again by his head coach.
Point guard DeAndre Mathieu, who had 18 points in last season’s 81-68 win against Wisconsin, was replaced in the starting lineup Saturday by freshman Nate Mason. It was the fourth time Mason started over Mathieu this season but the first time since a Jan. 20 loss at Nebraska.
“He was frustrated after the Northwestern game and I wasn’t crazy about his attitude,” second-year Gophers coach Richard Pitino said of Mathieu. “I wasn’t going to play him a whole lot. But as we’re moving forward, these young guys have got to get reps.”
Mason, who led the Gophers with 15 points in a 72-66 loss Wednesday against Northwestern at home, wasn’t rattled early in his first game in Madison with nine of his 11 points in the first half.
Mathieu, the team’s MVP last season, responded to his coach’s challenge by scoring nine of his 11 points in the second half Saturday.
“It was good that coach set the boundaries and made DeAndre learn,” Mason said. “So I think he learned his lesson. He was a great teammate today.”
Sophomore Charles Buggs made his fourth straight start at small forward. Pitino also played freshmen post players Bakary Konate and Gaston Diedhiou a combined 18 minutes.
Minnesota clearly went with youth over experience with Mason and Konate playing over seniors Mathieu and Elliott Eliason on Saturday.
Diedhiou got a career-high 10 minutes because junior forward Joey King was in foul trouble and finished with just four points in 21 minutes.
Pitino claimed he’s not giving up on this season to prepare his younger players for the future.
“It’s not like winning has become secondary,” he said. “I think Bakary has earned those minutes. I think we don’t have a lot of options at the backup (power forward) right now. And when Joey plays the way he does and is in foul trouble, you got to go with Gas…It’s not like we’re saying the season is over. More than anything, I just have to live with the mistakes they make.”
But his seniors have to give him more.
Andre Hollins had been averaging 20 points in his last nine games, but he was held to just two points on 1-for-8 shooting from the field in 33 minutes.
To start the second half, Hollins fell down and caused a turnover on the first possession. That led to a domino effect as Mason had a ball go off his leg next. And then Buggs threw the ball out of bounds. Three of the six second-half turnovers came in the first 1 1/2 minutes.
Wisconsin’s biggest lead was 54-38 after an emphatic two-handed dunk by Sam Dekker with 6:51 remaining.
Konate capped an 8-1 run by Minnesota with a basket but Kaminsky answered.
Carlos Morris, who finished with 11 points, hit a jump shot but Kaminsky responded again with a jumper showing why he’s the front-runner for Big Ten player of the year.
The closest Minnesota would get in the second half is 61-53 after Mathieu nailed a three-pointer with 27 seconds left.
But Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig, who finished with 17 points, went 4 for 4 from the foul line with under a minute to close the game.
The Gophers play Michigan State on Thursday and Wisconsin again March 5 at home.
But they have to come to grips with the harsh reality that their only shot to make the NCAA tournament will be to win the Big Ten tournament next month in Indianapolis.
They can’t come close to that goal without better senior leadership.
“It is our jobs as seniors to keep the team together and on the same page,” said Mo Walker, who had eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks Saturday. “Austin Hollins did a great job last year doing that. Big shoes to fill.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service.