MINNEAPOLIS - Bo Ryan said that his team "picked the wrong day" to play Michigan after the Wolverines handed the Badgers their second loss of the season last Saturday.
But their luck didn't get any better against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Williams Arena, because they picked the wrong day to play Maurice Walker, too. The Badgers struggled to handle the 6-foot-10 forward while Frank Kaminsky sat on the bench in foul trouble, allowing him a team-high 18 points as the Gophers cruised to a 81-68 win on Wednesday night.
It was the third straight game where the Badgers (16-3, 3-3 Big Ten) have allowed their opponent to shoot 55 percent or more on 2-point field goals, capping what was easily one of their worst defensive performances of the season.
Minnesota point guard DeAndre Mathieu also chipped in 18 points for the Gophers, who were forced to play most of the game without leading scorer Andre Hollins after the junior guard rolled his ankle in the game's opening minutes.
Sophomore forward Sam Dekker didn't beat around the bush outside the team's locker room after the game. The Badgers embarrassed themselves on defense against the Gophers, and they knew it.
"They saw that they could be successful inside on us and they kept feeding [Walker]," Dekker said. "We were making mistakes. You never want to see a great player like Andre Hollins go down with an injury and you hope he'll get better, but that kind of took them out of the outside shot and forced them to get stuff in the paint and it worked for them. Credit to them for good offensive schemes, but it was also our fault. We played miserable defense tonight."
The Gophers shot 58.9 percent from the field and brutalized an already vulnerable Wisconsin defense, working from the inside out as the game moved along. Walker went off on freshman forward Nigel Hayes after Kaminsky picked up his second foul less than three minutes into the game, scoring 12 consecutive points for the Gophers.
Ryan said losing Kaminsky was a big blow, but the bigger problem came in the second half when they were able to defend Walker but not stop other Gophers from making their shots.
"It's very difficult when a guy gets that many easy baskets and then in the second half you give up the other type because you shut [him] off," Ryan said after the game.
Mathieu and Austin Hollins picked up the slack for the Gophers after the Badgers were finally able to get Kaminsky back on the floor after sitting him for almost 18 minutes. The pair combined for 24 of Minnesota's 47 second half-points, shooting 11-for-16 after halftime.
As a whole the Badgers allowed Minnesota to make 29-of-49 2-point field goals in the game, including a 14-for-25 mark in the first half. The Gophers outscored the Badgers 48-24 in the paint, out-rebounded them 32-22, and turned the ball over just seven times, giving the Badgers few opportunities to take advantage of Minnesota's misses.
The loss is Wisconsin's third in as many games following their program-best 16-0 start to the season. And after a third sieve-like defensive performance in a row, the Badgers have lost most of the margin for error they bought with their early hot streak. It has been a rapid fall from grace for the Badgers, who were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country before the Hoosiers and Wolverines unmasked some of their serious defensive flaws.
And while their loss to Minnesota is by no means a knockout blow for their hopes of a Big Ten championship, the Badgers know they don't have time to get caught up in scoreboard watching. They have a few more pressing matters to deal with first, such as how to keep the Purdue Boilermakers from scoring as easily as the Hoosiers, Wolverines and Gophers did.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.