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Wisconsin Minnesota Basketball

Wisconsin center Ethan Happ grabs a rebound from Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy during the first half of the Badgers' win over the Golden Gophers on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Minneapolis. 

MINNEAPOLIS – Ethan Happ couldn’t resist. After the final buzzer sounded, the senior center for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team smiled at some members of the Minnesota student section who had been chirping at him all game long, put his hand on his mouth and blew some kisses their direction.

The No. 19 Badgers’ 56-51 win at Williams Arena on Wednesday night wasn’t pretty by any means, but it sure was sweet for Happ and Co.

Happ overcame a rough first half to finish with 15 points and 13 rebounds, helping UW extend its winning streak to six games and remain in the hunt for the Big Ten title.

The win moved the Badgers (17-6, 9-3 Big Ten) into a tie for third place with Michigan State, one game behind first-place Michigan heading into a showdown between UW and the No. 7 Wolverines on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

It was the Badgers’ fourth consecutive victory at Williams Arena. Happ has been on the floor for three of those wins, which is why he felt the need to show some, ahem, appreciation toward the home fans after the game.

“I just want to thank them for their hospitality,” Happ said in the postgame news conference with a mischievous grin, “and that’s kind of what that was.”

Sophomore guard Brad Davison added 10 points for the Badgers, while sophomore forward Nate Reuvers contributed nine points, eight rebounds and seven blocked shots.

UW won despite shooting 34.5 percent overall from the field and going 6 of 22 (27.3 percent) from 3-point range.

“Gritty win,” Badgers coach Greg Gard said after his team improved to 8-4 away from home this season, including 5-1 in Big Ten road games. “This league is a grinder, as everybody knows, specifically when you get on the road. I’m proud of our guys how we battled to come in here and to play with the lead the entire time and find a way.”

Senior forward Jordan Murphy finished with 16 points and 19 rebounds to lead Minnesota (16-7, 6-6), which also got 12 points and 11 rebounds from freshman center Daniel Oturu.

But the Golden Gophers’ perimeter players didn’t help the cause. Minnesota shot 35.1 percent overall from the field and went 1 of 13 from beyond the arc.

“We went cold,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said. “I thought we got some open looks, we just couldn’t hit ‘em.”

The Gophers were looking to complete their first season sweep of the Badgers since 2009, but two things were different compared to the first meeting between the teams.

When Minnesota beat UW 59-52 on Jan. 3 at the Kohl Center, junior swingman Amir Coffey was the Gophers’ only consistent source of offense and produced a game-high 21 points.

Coffey was held to eight points on 3-of-10 shooting this time around, with UW senior forward Khalil Iverson providing most of the defensive resistance.

“Defensively,” Gard said after UW held Minnesota to 0.89 points per possession, “I thought we were really good again.”

The other point of emphasis for the Badgers was getting off to a better start than they did a month ago against the Gophers, when UW only scored 14 points in the first half and never was able to climb out of the 15-point hole it found itself in at halftime.

“We’ve got to come out better,” Reuvers said earlier this week. “We can’t put ourselves in a hole.”

This time, the Badgers never trailed. They were up by three points at the half despite missing 13 of their 18 shots in the paint, with all but one of those misses coming within 5 feet of the rim.

UW finally started finishing around the rim after halftime and extended its lead to 37-27 when Reuvers took a feed from Happ and scored with 11 minutes, 1 second remaining.

The Gophers, to their credit, fought to get back in the game. They chipped away at the Badgers’ lead and were within 49-46 after Murphy made two free throws with 2:11 left, but UW sophomore guard D’Mitrik Trice answered with a dagger on the ensuing possession.

After working the shot clock down, Trice drained a 3-pointer over 6-foot-8 Minnesota forward Eric Curry to give the Badgers a 52-46 lead with 1:44 remaining.

Junior guard Brevin Pritzl, who had a solid all-around game off the bench, and Davison each made two free throws in the final minute to seal the win for the Badgers.

“Just an old-school Big Ten game,” Reuvers said, “and we came out on top.”

Bucky!

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