Three keys to Wisconsin beating Minnesota

MADISON – Saturday afternoon against Minnesota the Wisconsin Badgers will look to control Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 14th consecutive season. Wisconsin’s last loss to Minnesota came in the 2003 season when they fell to the Gophers 37-34 on a Rhys Lloyd 35-yard field goal as time expired. In 2004 the Badgers handily beat the Gophers 38-14, and they haven’t lost in the rivalry since.

Here are three keys to victory for the Badgers to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 14th straight season:

1. Run the football – It’s no secret that Wisconsin wants to run the football effectively in each and every week. They boast one of the country’s best running backs in freshman Jonathan Taylor. He’s currently third in the country in rushing yards with 1,657 on the season. Taylor has been named Big Ten Freshman of the Week a record-tying seven time. A big game against the Gophers could give him sole possession of that record.

Minnesota’s defense hasn’t exactly been stout against the run. They’ve given up over four yards per carry. That is quite the difference after Taylor rushed for 132 yards against one of the country’s best rushing defenses last week against Michigan. Taylor could be poised for another big game in his first taste of this rivalry. Look for him to have his ninth 100-yard game, and possibly his fourth game of over 200 yards.

2. Limit mistakes – In nearly every upset that occurs in college football, the underdog team is able to win the turnover battle. Wisconsin has made quite a few mistakes, but been consistently bailed out by an outstanding defense. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 13 interceptions on the season, which is tied for third most in the country. He’s thrown an interception in each of the Badgers’ eight Big Ten wins.

This would be an excellent time for Hornibrook to play his best game of the season and build a bit of momentum before the Badgers head to Indianapolis to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship game. The defense will likely be able to bail out Hornibrook if necessary this weekend, but the Buckeyes are a different story.

3. Follow the plan – Wisconsin has stuck to the same plan in nearly all of their games this season. Things have been close in the first half. They’ve had an opportunity to feel out their opponent, the defense has been strong and the game has been close. The second half of games is where the Badgers have dominated, only trailing for 8:49 in the second half this season. They only other game this season in which they trailed during the second half this year was the Big Ten opening matchup with Northwestern.

If the game is close heading into the second half, as it should be, Wisconsin will find themselves in very comfortable territory and likely to pull away. It would be even better if they took control a little earlier this week. Wisconsin is the more talented team, but anything can happen in rivalry games.

Prediction: Wisconsin completes their first ever 12-0 season with a 38-13 win to keep Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for at least one more year.

Datone Jones sour over transition from Packers to Vikings

MINNEAPOLIS — New Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Datone Jones says the Green Bay Packers didn’t show serious interest in re-signing him until they learned he was meeting with the Vikings.

That was the crux of Jones’ explanation of his transition from Titletown to a city that hasn’t won a championship in the four major sports since 1991 (Minnesota Twins). He tells the Associated Press that as soon as he met with coach Mike Zimmer and rest of Minnesota’s staff, he was convinced he should sign with the Packers’ rival.

“I don’t think they really made a strong effort until I took a visit to Minnesota,” he said. “I think once I came to Minnesota, my mind was actually made up. Once I sat down with Coach Patterson, I think my mind was made up right then and there.

“Once I sat down with Coach Zimmer [and] the rest of the coaching staff, I think my mind was pretty much made up. I had some of the best years I could ever have in Green Bay, and I thank the Packers organization for those great years, but you know, I think it was just time for me to move on with my life and come somewhere new and get a new start.”

We may never know what offers Green Bay had on the table for Jones, but he signed with Minnesota on a one-year, $3.75 million deal after a productive “contract year” with the Packers. He logged 17 tackles, a sack, and two passes defensed in 2016. Much of that had to do with converting to more of a hybrid or “elephant” role that year, where he started a career-high four games.

But he’ll be reverting back to a familiar role once he arrives in Minnesota. Zimmer anticipates Jones will be moved to an interior lineman position in their 4-3 scheme, similar to what he ran in UCLA before being drafted in the first round by the Packers in 2013.

Thompson on RBs: “We need some more guys”

PHOENIX — Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson touched on a variety of topics during Monday’s NFL Owners Meetings, including a need for more bodies in the backfield.

“We need some more guys,” Thompson said in reference to adding running backs. “We’re a little short in a couple of areas. So from a personnel standpoint, we’ve got to get some more bodies, but we like the guys that we have. It’s just that we’d like to get some more.”

The departure of Eddie Lacy and the release of James Starks leaves just three running backs on roster, none of which have carried the workload a full season would entail. Ty Montgomery, who switched from wide receiver to running back last season, carried the ball 77 times for 457 yards and three touchdowns.

Reports from over the weekend indicated Thompson and the Packers were considering a meeting with former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson but that his asking price was too steep. Those reports also stated that Green Bay may address Peterson after the NFL Draft next month if their needs aren’t met. But when Thompson was asked about Peterson on Monday, he became tight-lipped.

“Let’s all together answer that question,” Thompson told a group of reporters. “We don’t talk about players that are not on our team. We never have, we never will. It doesn’t serve a purpose, I don’t think.”

Thompson and the Packers have roughly $24 million in cap space remaining for this offseason, and while he admitted it’s possible another player is added, that money might be saved for a future contract extension for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Bucks beat Timberwolves for sixth straight victory

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks picked up their sixth win in a row Saturday night by defeating the Minnesota Timberwolves 102-95 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Milwaukee is starting to figure out how to win without gaudy numbers from Giannis Antetokounmpo, taking advantage of double digit scoring by seven players en route to the win. Tony Snell led the Bucks with 19 points, while Antetokounmpo added 18.

”We’d love for everybody to score 10 points but the big thing is these guys kept fighting,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. ”There are a lot of tired bodies in that locker room.”

The six-game winning streak is the longest Milwaukee has had since the 2011-2012 season. The current run has also placed the Bucks into playoff contention, currently holding what would be the eighth and final playoff spot with about 2 ½ weeks to play.

”You’ve got to play for today,” Kidd said. ”You can’t control the lottery balls. You never know what the future holds. With free agency and the way things change so fast in this league, you have to try to get through that process sooner rather than later.”

It’s the fifth straight game Milwaukee has held its opponent under 100 points — a season-best streak.

Wisconsin remains inside the AP Top 25 despite a pair of losses

MADISON — Despite a pair of losses over the last week, the Wisconsin basketball team was still inside the Associated Press Top 25 poll when it was released Monday.

The Badgers, losers of four of their last five games, dropped six spots to No. 22, their lowest ranking of the season, and a dramatic shift from the poll just three weeks ago, when they were No. 7. Since then, though, they’ve lost to Northwestern, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State, with their only win coming against another team, Maryland, on the skids.

Wisconsin is at home for the final two games of the Big Ten season, with the first game on Thursday against Iowa.

The only other Big Ten team in the AP poll is Purdue, who checks in at No. 16, down two spots from last week after needing overtime to beat Penn State and losing at Michigan.

Purdue leads Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings by one game, and Michigan State, Maryland and Minnesota by two games. The Boilermakers finish out the regular season with a game against Indiana at home and a trip to take on Northwestern.

Click here for the full poll.

Badgers drop finale with Gophers 3-2 to split weekend series

MINNEAPOLIS — Looking to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten standings, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team made a two-goal comeback at Mariucci Arena on Saturday night.

Unfortunately for the 19th-ranked Badgers (18-11-1, 11-5-0-0 Big Ten), they came up just short as No. 4 Minnesota (21-9-2, 12-4-0-0) scored late in the third period to defeat Wisconsin by a score of 3-2.

“I’m really proud of our guys this weekend, they were outstanding,” head coach Tony Granato said. “We had our chances to tie it, we had our chances to win it. We fell down 2-0, we didn’t quit and kept coming and coming but they made the play in the third period that went in our net.”

Wisconsin nearly came back again in the final minute of regulation. With its goaltender pulled, Wisconsin’s Grant Besse saw a shot slowed just enough by Minnesota goaltender Eric Shierhorn that reached the goal line before it was cleared by the Minnesota defense, sealing the Badgers’ 3-2 defeat.

UW found themselves in a 1-0 hole, 8:24 into the opening frame, as Rem Pitlick score his 11th goal of the year. The Gophers added to their lead late in the period on a power-play goal from Ryan Norman to put the Badgers down two heading into the second period.

Similar to Friday night, the Cardinal and White fought back in the second period, scoring two power-play goals to tie the game at 2-2.

The first tally was scored by Luke Kunin, netting his 20th goal of the campaign 5:18 into the period. The captain’s tally was assisted by Trent Frederic and Cameron Hughes. Kunin’s goal marked the first time a UW player has scored at least 20 goals since Michael Mersch scored 22 goals in the 2013-14 season.

“When you need offense, he’s able to get the team going or contribute a big goal,” Granato said. “That’s why he’s wearing the ‘C’, that’s why he was captain of the World Juniors, that’s why he’s a first round draft pick, he’s an elite player.”

Wisconsin knotted the game with just 15.4 seconds left in the period on Jake Linhart‘s sixth goal of the year. The defenseman threw the puck at the net and was able to find twine with Matt Ustaski setting a screen in front of Gophers’ goaltender Eric Schierhorn.

Minnesota and UW headed into the final period of play tied at 2-2 with Matt Jurusik stopping 19 out of 21 shots faced.

Wisconsin continued to push for a go-ahead goal, but it was Minnesota who found the game-winner with 5:06 to go in the game on Justin Kloos’ 17th goal of the year.

Jurusik ended the night with 27 saves on 30 shots.

With the loss and series split, the Badgers fall into second place in the Big Ten standings, three points behind the Gophers and five points ahead of third-place Penn State, who swept Michigan State this weekend. Wisconsin has four regular-season games remaining.


Wisconsin opens Minnesota series with 3-2 victory

MINNEAPOLIS— The Wisconsin men’s hockey team pulled into a first-place tie in the Big Ten with a 3-2 victory Friday night at Mariucci Arena over No. 4 Minnesota.

Despite surrendering a goal 28 seconds into the first period, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team showed their poise and resilience for the remaining 59:32.
Scoring three goals in the second period, the Badgers (18-10-1, 11-4-0-0 Big Ten) defeated Minnesota (20-9-2, 11-4-0-0) and kept themselves solidly in the race for the Big Ten title.

The Gophers came out strong to start the game, finding the back of the net in the opening minute as Vinni Lettieri banked a shot off of Jack Berry’s back from behind the goal line to make it 1-0.

“I don’t think he’s let the first shot in this season,” head coach Tony Granato said. “But it was huge for him to bounce back like that. He’s a competitor, to be able to put that one behind him, he settled in pretty fast.”

The Badgers did not find their first shot on goal until five minutes had elapsed, however Berry stood tall for the remainder of the period, keeping UW within one heading into the second period.

The middle frame is where Wisconsin turned it on, offensively, as Trent Frederic knotted the game at 1-1 just 3:42 into the period for his 15th goal of the season. The freshman finished off a 2-on-1 alongside Grant Besse, who fed Frederic the puck. Ryan Wagner earned his 17th helper on the year as well.

The Cardinal and White took the lead 3:40 later on a short-handed goal from Aidan Cavallini, his sixth tally of the year and second in as many games. The senior forward slammed home a rebound from Luke Kunin, who had begun the 2-on-1 opportunity.

UW struck again in the final minute of the period on a power-play goal from Wagner, who deflected a Jake Linhart shot from the point. The eventual game-winning goal gave the Badgers a 3-1 lead heading into the final period of play.

“They scored on the first shift of the game, and that’s a really tough way to start against a top team. As the (first) period went on, I thought we settled in and the second period, I thought we played pretty well,” Granato said.

Heading into the final period, Berry stopped 19 out of 20 shots he had faced.

The third stanza proved to be the strongest offensively for the Gophers, throwing 18 shots towards Berry, but the freshman goaltender was up to the task.

UM made it a one-goal game with just over eight minutes left in regulation on Lettieri’s second of the game and 17th of the year. Minnesota continued to push for a tying goal, but Berry continued to be a brick wall for the Badgers, not allowing any pucks to find twine.

“When you go on the road and play a top-five team, we knew they weren’t going to quit,” Granato said. “They knew what these points meant but we found a way to hold them off.”

Minnesota pulled their goalie with 2:24 left in the game but it was to no avail as Wisconsin was able to see out the remainder of the game, taking it 3-2.

Berry tied his career-high in saves with 36 on the evening.

Defenseman Peter Tischke also finished with 11 blocked shots in the game.

“We battled like crazy to keep it out of our net,” Granato said. “That team is a heck of a team. They didn’t stop, they kept coming and coming and with good goaltending and blocked shots and specialty teams, we were able to come up with a good road win.”

With the victory and three points in the bag, the Badgers pull even with the Gophers in first place in the conference standings with 33 points and five games remaining.


Badgers survive Gophers in overtime 78-76

MINNEAPOLIS — 40 minutes of play from the Williams Arena couldn’t decide a winner, but a late Ethan Happ free throw in overtime gave Wisconsin a 78-76 win over Minnesota.

Happ finished with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-19 shooting in a physical matchup in the post. The Badgers held a 44-24 advantage in points in the paint, while also improving its free throw shooting to the tune of 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) at the charity stripe. Happ also led Wisconsin with 12 rebounds and six assists.

The Gophers’ hot three-point shooting in the first half (68 percent) cooled off considerably after the first 20 minutes, ending the night 9-of-17 (53 percent). Amir Coffey was the high-point man for Minnesota with 19.

Senior forward Vitto Brown was questionable for the Badgers entering the Williams Arena due to a right knee injury. He appeared healthy in shootaround, playing 17 minutes and logging two points on 1-of-5 shooting from the field.  His biggest contributions were on the boards, grabbing seven rebounds.

P.J. Fleck confirms he’s taken head coaching job at Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Fleck confirmed Friday morning that he would be taking the head coaching job offered to him this week by Minnesota.

Previous story:

Despite an appearance by former LSU head coach Les Miles on Thursday, KSTP-TV’s Joe Schmit reports that Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck will instead be named the Gophers’ new head coach.

Fleck reportedly met with Minnesota’s Athletic Director Mark Coyle and school president Eric Kaler on Wednesday afternoon in Chicago.

The hiring process comes just days after Minnesota football coach Tracy Claeys was fired, despite posting a 13-7 record in his year-plus leading the program. He finished the 2016 campaign with a 9-4 record and a Holiday Bowl win over Washington State.

Because of contract details, Minnesota would have to pay Fleck somewhere in the range of $21 million over six years for an average salary of $3.5 million. Claeys was making $1.5 million annually.

Fleck led the Broncos to a 13-1 record and a Cotton Bowl appearance where they fell to Wisconsin 24-16.

T-Wolves tame Bucks 116-99

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Timberwolves controlled the game from the start, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 116-99 Friday night.

Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns led the charge for Minnesota, contributing 31 and 18 points, respectively, while Anthony-Towns also added 16 rebounds. Zach LaVine poured in an additional 24 from the bench, along with 22 from Shabazz Muhammad.

Milwaukee never took a lead in this game, with the only real positive being the 25 points, seven rebounds, and five assists provided by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks shot just 64.7 percent (11-of-17) from the free throw line, while turning the ball over 14 times.

The T-Wolves dominated from the start, outscoring the Bucks 34-21 in the opening quarter. Jabari Parker gave the Bucks 20 points in the losing effort, and wasn’t happy with their performance as a whole.

”I’d rather lose to the Bulls than lose to this team,” Parker said. ”It’s not against them, but we’ve got to win these games. We got to. If we want to be good we’ve got to win these games.”

Milwaukee travels to Chicago to face the Bulls Saturday night at 6.