Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Gophers’

Badgers skate past Gophers in front of record crowd

January 29, 2011 Comments off

Photo by David Stluka

Photo by David Stluka

MADISON, Wis. — It was far from the most graceful move of the night, but Hilary Knight’s celebration following her first period goal Saturday night said it all.

After finding the back of the net just 47 seconds in, Knight “went for it,” doing her best Alexander Ovechkin impression by jumping into the glass behind the goal, before quickly falling to the ice. Knight’s goal, and enthusiastic celebration, electrified the NCAA record crowd of 10,668 at the Kohl Center, setting the tone for top-ranked Wisconsin’s 3-1 win over No. 4 Minnesota.

“We definitely feed off their energy and we’re fortunate to have them,” Knight said. “I fell and made it an interesting celebration, but it was an incredible feeling. You don’t score in front of 10,000 people that often.”

The impressive crowd easily beat out two previous record crowds from the 2009 season. The previous women’s hockey Kohl Center record of 6,085 was set last January when the Badgers hosted Team USA for an exhibition, and the previous NCAA record was 8,263 set last February when Wisconsin defeated Bemidji State, 6-1, to kick off the Camp Randall Hockey Classic.

Having played for Team USA in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Knight and team captain Meghan Duggan are no strangers to large crowds. But to see the largest crowd in NCAA women’s hockey history in their home arena for a game against their border rivals certainly was a special feeling.

“It’s incredible,” Duggan said. “I just got the goosebumps actually thinking about it.

“It creates a great atmosphere in the building and really gets us going for the game. It helped out a lot tonight, I think.”

After Knight’s goal kicked things off less than a minute into the game, linemate Brianna Decker tallied one of the more impressive goals you’ll see. It just so happened to also be the game-winner.

With the Gophers on a power play, Decker got in front of a shot, took the puck on a breakaway, and put it past Minnesota goaltender Noora Raty for the goal.

On a night when the Badgers were boosted by the sheer number of people in attendance, it was Decker’s shorthanded goal that clinched the victory.

“You start with great momentum because of the atmosphere, and that certainly added to it,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “There’s not many games, this being the first one, where they have over 10,000 people watching women’s hockey. We put on a performance for them and came away with a victory.”

Minnesota cut the lead to 2-1 with a shorthanded goal of its own in the second period, when Becky Kortum took the puck away from the Badgers and bounced the puck off the pads of netminder Alex Rigsby and into the net.

Seven minutes later, Carolyne Prevost skated through a pair of defenders and went five hole on Raty to give Wisconsin its two-goal lead back at 3-1.

While that would be the game’s final tally, Minnesota never stopped fighting, giving Wisconsin a battle all the way to the final horn. The Badgers, who maintained their crowd-fueled energy throughout as well, appeared to have sealed it with an empty-netter in the final minutes, but it was negated by an offside call.

The huge crowd erupted as the puck hit the net, and while one of its loudest cheers of the night was for naught, the energy of the 10,668 in attendance helped Wisconsin maintain its energy throughout a tough, physical battle with Minnesota.

For Wisconsin, the timing of the “Fill The Bowl” event could not have been better, either. After taking two points with a shootout win Friday night, the Badgers led by 13 points in the WCHA standings over the second-place Gophers.

With the win Saturday night, UW increased its lead to 16 points, all but clinching the WCHA regular season title. With six games remaining on the schedule, Wisconsin sits just two points from its third WCHA conference championship and its first since the 2006-07 season.

“These five points this weekend is huge for us, but we’ve got to finish off the rest of the season,” Duggan said. “We can’t slow up, let the foot off the gas pedal. We’ve just got to press it down, keep going, and bring ourselves into the playoffs.”

Badgers kick off Big Ten season with a bang

December 28, 2010 Comments off

MADISON — No band, no cheerleaders, no problem.

For the better part of two months, the Kohl Center was hardly an intimidating home arena, with the student section quiet and relatively empty, even as the Badgers routinely defeated opponents by 20-plus points.

With thousands from the University already in Pasadena by Tuesday night, Wisconsin electrified the crowd, knocking off border rival Minnesota, 68-60, and kicking off the Big Ten season with a bang in the process.

“It was a big win for us. Definitely,” said Jon Leuer, one of four Minnesota natives on the UW squad. “They’ve kind of had our number over the last couple years, so to get this one it felt good definitely.

“We’re 1-0 in the Big Ten, and we have 17 to go.”

Though most Wisconsin fans may be California dreamin’ this week, the 24th-ranked basketball team showed it deserved some attention as well. True to form, Bo Ryan‘s squad did it through ball security and free throw shooting.

While they were outrebounded and outscored in the paint by wide margins, the Badgers only turned the ball over twice while connecting on 17-of-18 free throws.

Of those two turnovers, one came on a Ryan Evans traveling violation early in the second half, while the other was an uncharacteristic mistake by Taylor just three minutes into the game, which allowed Trevor Mbakwe to grab the steal. For two stretches of about 17 minutes, Wisconsin did not give the ball away.

Afterward, Ryan compared it to the Feb. 28, 2008 game against Michigan State, when Joe Krabbenhoft committed the only turnover in the game in the Badgers’ 57-42 victory.

“Kelby Krabbenhoft is here, and he said two is too many because in the game where we only had one, his son had it,” Ryan said. “So Kelby thought two was too many.

“I thought we did a great job of taking care of the ball. I thought they were pretty active. We got ourselves into some situations where I didn’t know if we were going to be able to attack, retreat, get it out, get it over, and we did.”

After trailing by five points midway through the first half, Wisconsin took control and led by as much at 10 points with 18:19 to go in the game. But Minnesota continued to fight, tying the game at 56 apiece with under six minutes to play.

Minnesota native Jordan Taylor hit a three to put the Badgers back out in front on the next possession, but his biggest play came in the game’s final two minutes, though whether it was the game’s biggest play remains up for debate.

With 1:12 to go, Taylor penetrated the Minnesota defense and put it off the glass and in, while crashing to the floor in the process. His drive sparked the team, and the added free throw for the three-point play all but sealed the Wisconsin victory.

“It was a momentum swing, but I think the biggest play of the game was Jon’s offensive rebound,” Taylor said. “We were up two, and that rebound allows us to get the ball and shoot free throws the rest of the way out.”

Taylor deferred to Leuer’s rebound, which came on the Badgers’ next possession, off a missed three by Taylor.

Leuer grabbed the ball off the glass for just the fourth offensive board of the game for UW, and the two combined to hit six free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal it. Ask the 6-foot-10 forward about his rebound, however, and he’ll defer to Taylor’s three-point play.

“No, I think that and-one was a bigger play,” Leuer said. “It was a time when the game was really close, he drove and I didn’t even see him because both their big guys jumped. I just saw the ball go up, hit off the backboard and it was an and-one. I was very excited at that point.”

As the Badgers secured the ball throughout the contest — their two turnovers was an NCAA low for the season, breaking their own previous mark of three — Taylor led the way with seven assists against just one turnover.

He added a game-high 22 points, while playing 39 minutes against a handful of tough Minnesota guards. The Big Ten is a point guard heavy league, and Taylor has certainly shown that he deserves to be in the discussion among the Big Ten’s best.

“He’s the most impressive point guard we’ve played against this year,” Gophers head coach Tubby Smithsaid of Taylor.

“To play a game with just two turnovers, and for him to go 7:1, that’s pretty good, assist-to-turnover,” Ryan said. “He’s definitely our leader on the court. His and-one I think kind of inspired the other guys. I’m glad he’s on our team.”


Clay, White run over Gophers

October 12, 2010 Comments off

MADISON – If there were any question who was the No. 1 running back at Wisconsin, John Clay answered them emphatically Saturday afternoon against Minnesota. But James White continued to show he was not far behind.

As the freshman White made a name for himself over the last two weeks earning Freshman of the Week honors in the Big Ten, questions mounted concerning Clay’s effectiveness out of the backfield. Some even called for White to be named starter.

On Saturday, the duo combined to put together the most complete performance by the Wisconsin running game yet this season. On 40 carries, they picked up 229 yards — a 5.7 yards per carry average — with five touchdowns.

“Those guys ran hard today,” said tight end Lance Kendricks, who provided a number of key blocks for Clay and White. “Overall, I think this was the best game that they’ve had as a balance of two running backs.”

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema talks about going with the hot hand at running back. But when both backs are picking up more than five yards per carry, the hot hand is whoever is in the backfield on a given play.

If you ask either Clay or White, they’ll both tell you they don’t care who gets the carries, as long as the offense is successful.

“I really just like that it’s just constantly rolling through there,” Bielema said. “They’re the first ones to congratulate each other. It’s special.”

Clay, who had one of his best career rushing performances at Minnesota last year, opened the running game up early, tallying 52 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown in the first quarter. He would not touch the ball again in the half.

In the third quarter, Clay and White each added another touchdown, but it was not until the fourth quarter that they really tacked on the yardage. After rushing for 122 yards through three periods, they combined for 117 in the fourth quarter alone, while each also added another touchdown.

“There’s no slack when one of us comes out of the game,” White said. “If Clay comes out and I go in, there’s no slack. If I go out, Montee (Ball) goes in. We’re all in there cheering for each other and we’re all capable of doing big things.”

With three touchdown runs, Clay tied a personal best, while boosting his career total to seven trips to the end zone against Minnesota. With 37 career rushing touchdowns, Clay ranks fifth all time at UW.

Clay also eclipses the 3,000-yard mark on the ground, making him the eighth running back in school history to go over 3,000 yards. His 3,093 rushing yards also rank eighth in UW history.

Tallying his second career 100-yard rushing game, White now has 361 yards and eight touchdowns in his last three games. Saturday also marked the second time in those three games that Clay and White have both rushed for at least 100 yards.

In three games against Austin Peay, Michigan State and Minnesota, Wisconsin’s running back duo has rushed for 670 yards and 12 touchdowns on 93 carries. With the power of Clay and White’s speed, opposing defense have had their hands full stopping the Badgers rushing attack.

“I’m a power runner, he’s a speed guy,” Clay said. “They don’t expect it. He’s a lot shorter guy than I am, so he’s able to use his agility and hide behind offensive lineman. For me, I’m a bigger guy, so it’s hard for opponents to come try to tackle me down.

“When we get out there able to showcase our talent, we’re always there to show each other support and love.”

Five things to watch: Minnesota

October 12, 2010 Comments off

MADISON — It’s Axe week. With the way the Badgers played in East Lansing, the rivalry game against Minnesota could not have come at a better time for UW. After suffering their first loss to Michigan State last week, Wisconsin’s focus is on keeping the Axe.

Before things kick off at Camp Randall today, offers a number of things to watch during today’s game, as well as a prediction.

1.) Can they get off the field?

When the Spartans needed a big play in the Big Ten opener, more often than not the Badgers were not able to stop them from getting it. Out of 18 third down conversion attempts, Michigan State was successful nine times.

More importantly, despite creating three turnovers, the Wisconsin defense forced MSU to punt just once the entire game. While the Gophers are not on the same level as the Spartans, a similar output by the defense would not bode well for UW.

To beat Adam Weber and Minnesota, the Wisconsin defense led by J.J. Watt will need to do a far better job of imposing its will, controlling the game and setting up the offense with opportunities to score.

2.) Under pressure

Everyone focused on third downs last week, but the real issue was a lack of success stopping Michigan State on first and second down. A lot of that had to do with an inability to pressure Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins.

More often than not, Cousins threw the ball when he wanted to or was ready to, rather than when the UW defense forced him to do so. With another of the Big Ten’s top signal callers in Weber coming to town Saturday, pressure will be important against Minnesota.

The Gophers, along with the Badgers, are tied fourth in the Big Ten with just five sacks allowed this season. The Spartans, on the other hand, have allowed more sacks (11) than every team in the conference other than Northwestern.

It certainly won’t be easy, but the Badgers need to make Weber feel uncomfortable every time he drops back to pass.

3.) What happened to the passing game?

Wisconsin three non-running back stars on offense — Scott Tolzien, Nick Toon, and Lance Kendricks — were disappointing in the Big Ten opener, to put it lightly. In such a big game, those three should be expected to step up, not put up their worst performances of the season.

Minnesota’s defense has struggled to stop both the run and pass this season, but you can be sure they’ll focus more on the former this week. To open things up for John Clay and James White, Tolzien will need to be better than 11-for-25 for 127 yards.

4.) Not So Special Teams

For the second time this season, breakdowns on kick and punt coverage against MSU proved crucial. Against a team like Minnesota, the last thing Wisconsin needs is to let the Gophers keep things close with a special teams touchdown.

There’s little question that Wisconsin should easily retain the Axe for a seventh straight year. But even a team like Minnesota could make things interesting if the Badgers’ coverage units continue to struggle.

5.) Resurgence of Clay

Over the last two weeks, White has been far and away the better of the two Wisconsin running backs. His speed and quickness make him exactly the kind of dynamic runner the Badgers need to complement Clay.

Unfortunately for all involved, Clay has struggled to hold up his end of the bargain. Aside from a handful of impressive runs of more than 10 yards, Clay has looked slow, hesitant, and simply ineffective.

Perhaps no one in cardinal and white is looking forward to facing the Gophers than Clay. With their rush defense ranking 10th in the conference, Clay should have the perfect opportunity to show he’s still among the best offensive players in the conference.

Schelling’s prediction

On paper, this matchup looks like a 20-point blowout in the Badgers’ favor ready to happen. Minnesota is near the bottom of the conference in points scored and allowed. Wisconsin, on the other hand, is near the top in both.

With the motivation of a disappointing loss a week ago combined with their desire to retain Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the Badgers should have no trouble handling the Gophers. Still, a 22-point spread seems like a bit much. The only time UW has covered the spread this season was their 70-3 blowout of Austin Peay.

Keeping that in mind, I like Wisconsin over Minnesota, 38-20.

‘D’ focused on third downs

October 7, 2010 Comments off

MADISON – Were they going to get off the field? Were they going to give their offense a chance to get back on the field?

Those questions, posed rhetorically by Aaron Henry while fielding questions in a trailer just outside Spartan Stadium last Saturday, likely were going through the mind of many Badger players and fans as Michigan State marched down the field late in the game.

In the end, the answers to the questions were, ‘No,’ and ‘Not really.’

Trailing by three points with 10 minutes remaining in their Big Ten season opener, all the Badgers had to do was hold the Spartans to a field goal. Do that, and they had a chance to escape with a late, game-winning touchdown drive.

Instead, they let Kirk Cousins lead Michigan State down the field for a 15-play, 84-yard touchdown drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock. Not only was UW then trailing by 10 points, it also had little time in which to mount a comeback.

“Of course, of course you’ve got to get off the field. Definitely, man,” Henry said. “The game is won on defense, believe it or not. Anytime you play a team, if you can’t get off the field, if you can’t force the team to punt, you put yourself in a bad situation.”

While they secured three turnovers on defense, the Badgers only forced the Spartans to punt once in the game. Every other drive that didn’t result in a turnover ended with MSU putting points on the board.

Much of that had to do with the Badgers’ inability to get off the field on third down, which allowed Michigan State to string together a few long scoring drives. After allowing the Spartans to convert on 9 of 18 third-down conversion attempts, it’s no surprise that third downs have been a point of emphasis in practice this week.

What may not be as apparent is the focus put on having success on first and second down, to avoid tough third down situations.

“It’s a big issue when on first and second down you’re giving up three or four yards and they’re in third and short, third and three to five,” said defensive end J.J. Watt. “Third and three to five is a hard down to play, and I know it’s a hard down for him to call, so we really can’t put the defensive coordinator in situations like that.”

Though last week’s shortcomings have certainly been a point of emphasis, there’s no lack of motivation on the Wisconsin sideline as they prepare for this week’s opponent.

With border rival Minnesota coming into Camp Randall for Saturday’s homecoming game, the Badgers know exactly what’s at stake. Considering the way they played in East Lansing to open the conference season, the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe could not come at a better time.

“You can’t think of a better game to have. If we’re going to go out there and play the game of our lives, this week would be a great week to do it,” Henry said. “I think this Axe is something that motivates everybody in the locker room. You would hate for a team to run over on your sideline and take it.”

Despite the Gophers’ lack of success so far, the UW defense will not be taking them lightly. It’s been seven years since Minnesota held the Axe, with the last six contests being decided by an average of 12 points.

In their last three matchups — two in Minneapolis and one in Madison — the Badgers have won by just over four points a game, and by just three in each of the last two.

With no one on the current Minnesota roster having touched the Axe in their careers, the last thing Wisconsin wants to do is see the Gophers celebrate with it on their home turf.

“They’re a hungry team. This is like the Super Bowl for them,” safety Jay Valai said. “So I know we’ll play them just the same way. It’s going to be a fun game.

“We don’t want anybody to come on our sidelines and have that feeling we felt a couple years ago at Iowa.”