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Wisconsin continues to protect home floor in Big Ten play

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- With a major test coming up this week, a
defensive smothering of Minnesota didn't provide a whole lot of
comfort to Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.

The fourth-ranked Badgers opened their Big Ten season with a
68-45 victory over the Golden Gophers on Saturday. Ryan must now
prepare his team to face No. 6 Ohio State in Madison on Tuesday
night and was in no mood to gush.

"We'll see if we're getting better defensively for the next
one, for sure," Ryan said.

Wisconsin (15-1, 1-0) trailed early, but recovered from a slow
start to take a 17-point lead at halftime. Then the Badgers held
the Gophers scoreless for the first 6½ minutes of the second half.

"They came out on fire," said Alando Tucker, who led the
Badgers with 14 points. "But this is the type of team we are. We
keep our composure."

Minnesota (7-9, 1-1) had several scoring droughts in its worst
offensive performance of the season.

"We didn't play well, but I also have to give Wisconsin a
tremendous amount of credit," Gophers interim coach Jim Molinari
said.

Wisconsin, already carrying its highest national ranking in
school history, may have a chance to move up in the polls this week
after No. 1 UCLA lost to Oregon 68-66 earlier Saturday. But the
Badgers are more worried about playing Ohio State.

"They're getting the chance to show the nation what they have,
and they're doing a good job," guard Kammron Taylor said of the
Buckeyes. "We know from the guards' position that we're going to
have to come ready to play on Tuesday."

Taylor had 13 points and Michael Flowers added 11 for the
Badgers, but Wisconsin's defense made the difference on Saturday.

The Gophers' 45-point performance eclipsed their season low of
53 in a loss to Southern Illinois on Nov. 24. Minnesota shot 34.7
percent against Wisconsin, its second-worst shooting performance
this season.

The Gophers had won two straight coming into Saturday, opening
conference play under Molinari, a former head coach at Bradley,
with a home victory over Purdue on Wednesday. Molinari said a road
loss against a top-five team wouldn't necessarily wipe out his
team's confidence.

"I don't think it negates it, no," Molinari said. "Did we
want to play better? Absolutely."

Despite the loss, the Gophers are 5-4 under Molinari, who took
over on Nov. 30 after Dan Monson accepted a buyout and resigned
with the Gophers on a five-game losing streak.

Forward Dan Coleman led Minnesota with 15 points.

Spencer Tollackson, the Gophers' third-leading scorer, sprained
his left hand when he collided with a teammate near the end of the
first half and did not play in the second half.

Minnesota guard Lawrence McKenzie, the team's leading scorer,
started the game from the bench after missing a team breakfast. He
played 31 minutes but was held to five points on 2-for-9 shooting.

McKenzie said the Gophers' hot start might have cost them their
concentration.

"At the beginning of the game, we got in a good offensive flow
and it was coming real easy," McKenzie said. "We were a little
bit more worried about our scoring than playing defense."

Minnesota led Wisconsin for the first 10-plus minutes of a
low-scoring first half. Molinari said the hot start might have
lulled his team into believing that it could outscore the Badgers.

"I think we kind of lost our identity," Molinari said. "We
played soft in the first half."

Wisconsin came back on a steal and slam dunk by Flowers, then
took a 16-15 lead on a soaring two-handed dunk by Tucker off an
alley-oop pass from Taylor with 9:14 left. Wisconsin built a 37-20
lead by halftime.

"It got our crowd up, and our energy started flowing from
there," Tucker said. "I was wild after Mike's dunk. Definitely,
it felt good following it up. But I think we got the whole building
shaking after that."

The Gophers played better defense in the second half, but
couldn't mount a comeback as the game devolved into a clankfest.

Neither team made a field goal for nearly the first five minutes
after halftime, with Wisconsin's only points coming off two free
throws.

Taylor finally grabbed a loose ball at midcourt and drove for a
layup to extend Wisconsin's lead to 41-20 with 15:18 to go.

Coleman scored with 13:30 left, the Gophers' first points since
Tollackson made two free throws with 1:06 left in the first half
and their first field goal since Jamal Abu-Shamala hit a 3-pointer
with 2:30 remaining before halftime.

Of course, Coleman's shot only counted after Wisconsin's Greg
Stiemsma was called for goaltending.

Wisconsin has won 11 straight games since its only loss of the
season to Missouri State on Nov. 24.