Minnesota (18-13-1, 9-10-1-1 Big Ten) surged to a 3-0 lead by the 15:38 mark of the first period, prompting Wisconsin (14-15-4-8-11-3-1 Big Ten) to bring in senior goaltender Kyle Hayton in relief of sophomore Jack Berry. Unfortunately, Nebraska sits a game ahead of them and has the head-to-head win over the Wolverines as well.
And a loss to Wisconsin certainly would have been bad.
Wisconsin pulled within 11 six more times - the last on a Happ layup at the 3:26 mark - but MI countered with an answer each time as neither team could string together stops on defense. But it was truly Michigan's game from the start, and it took care of business exactly as it needed to to keep its NCAA Tournament aspirations alive. A 15-2 run to start the game was huge and a stellar showing from Duncan Robinson, who was 4-of-7 from 3-point range for 16 points in Isaiah Livers absence, was a big help. Moe Wagner would also finish with multiple three point baskets, connecting on three of his six attempts.
However, things never come easy for MI at the Kohl Center, as Wisconsin didn't wilt and made seven straight shots. Although Happ would finish with 29 points, Wagner played as well as he could have against the Badgers' skilled big man. When UW cut its deficit to 66-55 on a jumper by freshman forward Nate Reuvers, junior guard Charles Matthews answered with a three-point play that gave the Wolverines a 14-point cushion with 5:13 left.
After the hot start to the game, MI shut out the Badgers in the final minutes of the first half to build a 44-22 lead.
A quiet Kohl Center crowd reawakened after a 12-0 run drew the Badgers within 58-47 with 8:52 left. And, by the time the Badgers tried to claw back into their eventual loss to MI, most of the damage had been done.
The victory was important for a few reasons. That means one more win will get UM to 20, which is always a good number to hit.
Sitting in fifth place in the Big Ten standings at the moment, it would be great if the Wolverines could move up to fourth and receive the double bye.
Seven times in the second half Wisconsin trailed by exactly 11 points, but just like in previous losses to Michigan State, Northwestern and Maryland, it was unable to break through. UM is 9-5.
Things won't get any easier from here as Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center hardwood on Thursday to battle Purdue. But thanks to the win over Wisconsin, the Wolverines probably need just another win or two to solidify a bid.
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