Defense has been a problem for No. 9 Wisconsin over the past few games. That notion reared its ugly head for the Badgers on Wednesday night as they suffered their third loss in a row, an 81-68 outcome at the hands of Minnesota.
The Gophers jumped out to a 34-28 halftime lead over the Badgers, and in the second half Wisconsin simply couldn't capitalize on opportunities to climb back into the contest. A Frank Kaminsky layup with 16:18 left to play kept the Badgers within seven points before a Deandre Mathieu layup and a Malik Smith three-point play pushed the lead to 12. Wisconsin never truly threatened again as Minnesota rang up 47 points in the second half.
Mathieu and Maurice Walker each chipped in 18 points apiece, two of the four Gopher players in double-figures.
The basket must have looked like an ocean to most of the Minnesota roster. Wisconsin allowed the Gophers to connect on a staggering 59 percent of their field goals, a number that included 57 percent (4-of-7) of their 3-pointers. Minnesota also dominated the glass and outrebounded the Badgers 32-22 while hitting all 11 of its free throws.
We've now watched an unbeaten Wisconsin team that entered the second week of January riding 16 straight wins drop three straight games thanks to subpar defensive performances. In a loss against Indiana on Jan. 14, the Badgers gave up 75 points as the Hoosiers shot 52 percent from the field and hit seven 3-pointers. Four days later, Michigan dropped 77 on Wisconsin in a game in which the Wolverines led by as many as 15 points.
On Wednesday the Badgers gave up their second-highest point total of the season. Much of Wisconsin's latest loss can be credited to Minnesota's home atmosphere, which has already claimed at least one big-time Big Ten program this season. Last week Minnesota handed Ohio State its third straight loss of the year; on Wednesday the Gophers forced the Badgers into the program's first three-game losing streak since the 2011-12 season. The good news for Wisconsin is the road gets a bit easier for the next few games. The Badgers face Purdue, Northwestern, a reeling Ohio State team and Illinois in the coming days. It's unclear where this team will go from here, but it seems obvious that direction will be determined by the defensive side of the ball.