GENARO C. ARMAS, AP Sports Writer
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Diving on the floor for loose balls. Strong drives to the hoop for dunks or to draw fouls. A blocked shot that whipped the “Grateful Red” student section into a frenzy.
Wisconsin’s frontcourt regained some of its swagger in a 78-70 win Thursday night over Minnesota.
Frank Kaminsky scored 17 points, Nigel Hayes added 15 off the bench and Sam Dekker had 10 points and the block that pumped up the 21st-ranked Badgers.
“The energy is contagious,” Kaminsky said. “Everyone was bringing it tonight.”
If not for some late free-throw woes by Wisconsin, the game might have been over way earlier in second half.
Outside shooting helped the Gophers hang around after Andre Hollins and Malik Smith hit 3s on back-to-back possessions to get to 73-68 with 55.2 seconds left.
Ben Brust finally sealed the win with two foul shots for an eight-point lead with 38 seconds left.
Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5 Big Ten) benefited from its hot start up front to win its third straight headed into Sunday’s showdown at No. 15 Michigan. The Badgers are at their best when active in the lane, and that was the case on both ends of the floor in building a 13-point lead against sloppy Minnesota (16-9, 5-7).
Minnesota had eight turnovers alone in the first half — one more than they had the entire game in a 13-point win over Wisconsin last month.
“Oh polar opposites,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said on Wisconsin’s defensive effort this time around.
Trouble getting the ball into the post, let alone anywhere in the paint. Other drives in which the ball just slipped away but luckily bounced out of bounds off Wisconsin.
“We were making plays that were just uncharacteristic of us, for whatever reason,” Pitino said.
Hollins had 22 points, and Smith scored 14. Each hit four 3-pointers.
Fast-paced Minnesota was clearly the better transition team. The Gophers would have had much better luck if it had a better hold of the ball.
The Gophers finished with 13 turnovers on the night. That won’t cut it against Wisconsin, even after some late buckets helped get their shooting percentage up to 45 percent.
Conversely, Wisconsin seemed recharged all night against their border rivals. The forwards remembered what happened in the 81-68 loss at Minneapolis on Jan. 22, when the Gophers outscored them 48-26 in the paint.
“It has a lot to do with the last time we played them — us bigs were weak on offense,” Kaminsky said. “We wanted to come out with more energy and I think we needed that.”
On Thursday, it was just a 20-18 edge in the paint for Minnesota. The more important stat was the 13-1 edge in points off turnovers for Wisconsin.
A seven-point halftime lead stretched to double digits for much of the latter part of the second half. Dekker jumped high for an inbounds pass near midcourt, then drove to the basket for a left-handed layup and eight-point lead with about 13 minutes left.
Kaminsky went up and under around two defenders for another bucket before Dekker and Joey King went to the floor on Minnesota’s next possession scrambling for a loose ball. King ended up throwing the ball away for a turnover.
Later, Hollins beat Dekker by a step for a path to the lane, but the 6-foot-7 forward recovered to swat the shot away with Wisconsin holding a 51-41 lead midway through the second half.
“I just thought we were better,” coach Bo Ryan said when asked about the difference from the last Minnesota game. “Working hard. Reading and reacting to one another.”
That defensive slump that led to a three-game losing streak for Wisconsin last month seems to be just a distant memory now.
The Badgers are also clicking on the other end by attacking the bucket while getting timely 3-pointers from Brust, who was 4 of 4 from long range.
The Gophers are now 1-4 since beating then-No. 9 Wisconsin. They can place part of the blame on Hayes, a 6-foot-7 freshman with athleticism and size that could also make him a good tight end.
Hayes scrambled for steals on two straight possessions — the second coming after he had turned the ball over the in the post.
He cruised in for an uncontested dunk that got the crowd going midway through a first half that ended with the Badgers up 35-28.
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