Gophers try to win in Wisconsin for first time in eight years
MINNEAPOLIS—This week in classes, Gophers men's basketball player Dupree McBrayer said peers often approached with catchy sayings that boiled down to a simple request — beat Wisconsin.
"Better dead than red," a few classmates told McBrayer, he said. "People are starting to come out more and recognize us more. It's a good feeling."
That's because the Gophers are surging with eight straight wins and a sure spot in the NCAA tournament as they head to Madison, Wis., with their best chance in years on Sunday of ending a losing streak against the Badgers that has grown to six games. Their woes in Madison are even worse; they are without a win there since January 2009.
But while the Gophers have sprinted to the regular-season finale with the program's longest conference winning streak in two decades, the once-dominant Badgers have lost five of six games, limping toward the Big Ten tournament.
"They're still a very, very good team," Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. "They have terrific talent and are well-coached and experienced. That's a lot of things going in their favor. I've got a lot of respect for them."
More is on the line than just a rivalry game for a Gophers team that has won its past three games by 10 points or more.
A win over Wisconsin would net the Gophers the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament in Washington, D.C.
If the Gophers lose, they're still guaranteed one of four coveted double byes as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament after Maryland beat Michigan State on Saturday.
"We're confident right now and they're not," McBrayer said of the Badgers. "We've just got to go in with the same confidence we've had during this eight-game winning streak and say we're the better team. We know we're better, and we know we can win. That's the mindset we have to go in there with."
Because the Gophers didn't play in Madison last season, McBrayer, a sophomore, is one of four key contributors who has never played at Kohl Center.
Perhaps even more astounding is the lone Gophers player who has played in a victory over Wisconsin before is Akeem Springs, the senior graduate transfer whose Milwaukee team won in Madison last season.
"I've heard a lot of stories about past games there," McBrayer said. "I've heard this one should be even crazier. I've heard the games are always packed and intense and physical."
The Gophers' eight-game winning streak has come on the heels of five straight losses in January, a stretch that included a 78-76 overtime loss against Wisconsin at Williams Arena.
But McBrayer said the team has maintained its winning streak because they still feel like there's a chip on their shoulder.
"Even though we think we're the hottest team, we still think we're underdogs and have that mindset," McBrayer said. "There's not enough talk about us, but we're OK with that."
Word quickly spread that Pitino wasn't named one of 10 finalists for national coach of the year despite his team's 23-7 record after last season's 8-23 nightmare.
"I don't really look at all that, but with a turnaround like this, it's got to be recognized," said junior center Reggie Lynch of Edina. "I'm surprised he didn't get it. We're all playing for him."