Koenig, Badgers keep rolling with 62-49 win over Gophers
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Wisconsin didn't respond well at first to the retirement of coach Bo Ryan.
These days, the Badgers are playing like he never left.
Bronson Koenig had 14 points and six assists, Ethan Happ added 12 points and 10 rebounds and Wisconsin won for the 11th time in 12 games with a 62-49 victory over undermanned Minnesota on Wednesday night.
''Coach Ryan built a legacy here. We were in danger early in the season of not living up to that,'' Happ said.
Vitto Brown pitched in 12 points and six rebounds for Wisconsin (20-10, 12-5 Big Ten), which moved into a tie for second place with No. 2 Michigan State.
''This is an expectation for us, to always be a title contender,'' Brown said.
Stephon Sharp scored 16 points and Jordan Murphy added 15 for the Gophers (8-21, 2-15), who went 3 for 17 from 3-point range against a Badgers team that's last in the league in 3-point defense.
''You've got your rival in town, you want to have everybody juiced up, and you just didn't have that feel. It's hard when you don't have all the options,'' said Gophers coach Richard Pitino, who recently suspended guards Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer for the remainder of the season.
The trio was punished for a sexually explicit video that appeared on Dorsey's social media accounts.
Zak Showalter's contested 3-pointer from the corner early in the second half put the Badgers up 47-28, but they coasted a bit against their overmatched rival. Khalil Iverson tried to finish an unabated fast break with a windmill dunk, but the ball slipped out of his hand and went backward like a slingshot to the amusement of everyone but coach Greg Gard, who immediately summoned Jordan Hill to sub for Iverson.
''It showed us what we need to do better, which is close out games and not get complacent when we have a lead like that,'' Brown said.
Iverson made up for it a little later with a double-pump slam from the baseline that brought a standing roar of approval from the Badgers bench and gave Wisconsin a 51-30 lead.
Murphy guided the Gophers closer down the stretch, but even after a whopping stretch of 8:57 without a field goal for the Badgers, the Minnesota deficit was never smaller than 11 points.
Gard, the interim replacement for his long-time boss Ryan, has coached his way into serious consideration for the job while the Badgers left those ugly nonconference losses behind them. They reached the 12-win mark in Big Ten play for the sixth straight season.
''For those guys to be able to rally and grow and mature as they have is a huge credit to them. We're not in this position without those guys,'' Gard said.
The Gophers headed into the final week of this miserable season with nine available players, only six of them on scholarship. Joey King had the pregame senior night ceremony to himself as the lone player left on the roster with expiring eligibility.
''He embodies what we're trying to build around here,'' Pitino said. ''He's a great kid.''
With Dorsey, Mason and McBrayer watching from the bench in white warmup shirts, the Gophers kept close during a mellow first half until the Badgers pulled away. Nigel Hayes hit an off-balance catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the top of the key with 3:22 left before halftime to put the Badgers up 38-18.
King's voice cracked during his entire postgame interview with reporters, his eyes glazed with disappointment.
''We did the most we could with the hand we were dealt,'' King said. ''Obviously in my situation it was the wrong time to have all this go down, but that's life.''
Sharp, one of the three walk-ons, started at point guard for the second straight game despite not playing the position since fifth guard. The freshman had 19 points on Sunday night at Illinois.
''We're all playing as hard as we can and giving everything we've got and just letting the results end up where they may be,'' he said.
This was the 199th meeting between these teams, the only one this season and Wisconsin's fifth straight win over Minnesota. The Badgers have won 25 of the last 32 games against the Gophers.
Wisconsin: Koenig has made at least one 3-pointer in 41 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in the country.
Minnesota: King was in foul trouble in the second half and finished with six points on 1-for-9 shooting from the floor.
Wisconsin plays at Purdue on Sunday night.
Minnesota plays at Rutgers on Saturday.