Lackluster play and late mistakes sent a once promising team to its fourth Big Ten defeat in a row.
Updated: January 26, 2013 - 9:48 PM
MADISON, WIS. -- At some point in any slump, things to say run dry.
Everything sounds like monotony or anger. Reasoning becomes weary, explanations irrelevant.
And after the No. 12 Gophers' last-second, 45-44 loss to unranked Wisconsin brought the losing streak to four and left Minnesota's once-promising basketball season hanging by a thread, coach Tubby Smith seemed to have run out of ways to explain that this team is different than last year's. That this team has talent and fight and leadership. That they're just not showing it right now.
Because in the absence of those traits, things are looking pretty familiar.
And what better example of those deficits than senior leader Rodney Williams clanking a last-second free throw that would have tied the game?
"It is a different group, a different team," Smith said. "But it's taken on the same scenario, the M.O."
The Gophers (15-5, 3-4 in the Big Ten) nearly snuck out with a victory after hanging with the Badgers through an ugly day of shooting by both teams, even with a 20-point bounce-back performance from Andre Hollins. But given the chance to seize their first victory since Jan. 9, the Gophers responded instead with silly mistakes, poor decision-making and a failure to execute.
With two seconds on the clock and the scored tied at 43, Traevon Jackson threw up a long two-pointer that bounced on the rim and went in, giving the Badgers (14-6, 5-2) a two-point lead as a Kohl Center announced crowd of 17,249 exploded.
"You can tell when a ball has a good roll or a bad roll," Jackson said. "It was going down."
The Gophers called timeout and then threw an inbounds lob to Trevor Mbakewe, who was fouled by the Badgers' Mike Bruesewitz with 1.7 seconds remaining, but the center re-injured his sore right wrist on the play and was unable to stay in the game.
Instead, Williams -- who finished with just two points and four rebounds-- was picked by Wisconsin to shoot. He made the first, but bounced the second off the backboard.
"Once Trevor got hurt, I kind of knew they were going to send me to the free throw line," Williams said. "The second one felt just as good as the first one did, but it didn't bounce my way."
Not much has bounced Minnesota's way lately, spoiling a 3-0 start in the Big Ten with a 0-4 flop. This was supposed to be the year Smith's teams challenged for a league title and made waves in the NCAA tournament, but instead the Gophers find themselves faced with many more questions than answers.
On Saturday, shooting was once again a major concern, the Gophers finishing at 34.8 percent from the field. But it's hard to limit the issues to just that. Minnesota managed just 29 rebounds to Wisconsin's 35. They also showed a lack of aggressiveness even though Smith went with a bigger lineup for most of the game, rotating Andre Ingram and Elliott Eliason at power forward with Mbakwe at center and Williams at small forward.
Williams, the team's most consistent and efficient force in the nonconference schedule, has been a decidedly weaker threat in Big Ten action, particularly in the past two games. Once again Saturday, the forward seemed to simply stand around on many offensive possessions, and he didn't seem interested in getting inside, attempting just six shots, including two from three-point range.
"We try to run plays for him. We throw the ball to him," Smith said. "You've got to want it. You've got to want it pretty bad. It's your fourth year, you're a senior, you've got to go demand the ball. And you've got to produce."
The Gophers face Nebraska at home on Tuesday, a seemingly sure-way to earn a much-needed victory and get back on track. But if Minnesota wants to keep the narrative that it is, in fact, a "good team," it cannot wait to make adjustments any longer.
"Like I've said, we're a really good team, we just need to get over the hump of the little things that have been causing our losses," Andre Hollins said.
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