With ‘target’ on backs, No. 6 Badgers face No. 21 Golden Gophers

NCAA Basketball

If No. 6 Wisconsin is to keep ascending the polls — and ideally take turns climbing a ladder to snip the nets following the national championship game — the Badgers realize they must rise to the challenge every night.

Wisconsin failed Monday during a 70-64 home upset loss to Maryland, but the schedule leaves little time to sulk with No. 21 Minnesota set to visit Thursday in a Big Ten game.

“We knew we have a target on our back, and we need to be more aggressive in the way we play and the way we approach the game, and (Monday) we didn’t do that,” the Badgers’ forward Aleem Ford said.

Wisconsin (8-2, 2-1) entered the week with a 10-game conference winning streak.

Beginning the run anew hinges on improving the team’s inside edge. Wisconsin went 9-for-19 on shots at the rim against the Terrapins and was 8-for-15 from the foul line. Maryland frustrated Wisconsin by alternating defensive looks from man-to-man to a 3-2 zone.

“Our zone pushed them out to the perimeter,” the Terrapins’ guard Eric Ayala said. “I think it slowed them down a lot there for us.”

D’Mitrik Trice paced Wisconsin with a game-high 25 points, but Ford was the only other Badger in double figures, with 10. Maryland, which hit 11 of its final 12 shots, countered with three players in double figures.

“It’s better that it happened now, so we can learn from our experiences to where we’re better in the long run,” Ford said.

Winners of three in a row, including two straight against ranked teams, the Golden Gophers happily repeated a lesson by throttling then-No. 17 Michigan State on Monday, 81-56.

“It confirmed that we’re a tough team and a determined team,” Minnesota center Liam Robbins said after amassing 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks while helping limit the Spartans to 25.7 percent shooting from the field. “It just shows this group is just willing to do anything to get it done.”

Marcus Carr led the Golden Gophers with 19 points and added five assists. Minnesota (9-1, 2-1) never trailed and won the rebounding battle 52-36.

Still, not everything was seamless in the team’s final home game of the calendar year. The Golden Gophers struggled to 24 percent shooting (6-for-25) from 3-point range, a contrast to the accuracy that helped the team defeat then-No. 4 Iowa 102-95 in overtime on Christmas Day.

The Golden Gophers have played just one true road game this season, a 92-65 loss at then-No. 13 Illinois on Dec. 15. But coach Richard Pitino stressed the importance of being resilient and keeping an even keel, and Minnesota has responded.

“Illinois absolutely kicked our butts, and we didn’t freak out,” Pitino said. “It’s only worth one.”

Minnesota’s visit to Wisconsin marks the third game in a rugged stretch of seven straight games against teams currently ranked.

–Field Level Media

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