This New Spirit Of Cooperation Stinks

Hey, as a native Minnesotan who has called Wisconsin home since the outgoing president’s father was in office, I’m all for Wisconsin and Minnesota working together and sharing resources.

But do we have to share Big Ten basketball supremacy?

You’d have to go back four years, to January 9, 2005, to find a date on which a Minnesota team came across the border and shocked the Wisconsin home crowd to equal what happened Thursday night at the Kohl Center.

You remember January 9, 2005. The 8-8 Minnesota Vikings, losers of four of their last five regular season games, limped into Lambeau Field for a wild-card matchup against the clearly superior 10-6 Green Bay Packers. The Vikings stormed out to a 14-0 lead five minutes into the game, Randy Moss pretended to moon the crowd, Joe Buck reacted in ridiculous horror as if Moss had channeled Ozzy Osbourne and bitten the head off of Packers head coach Mike Sherman, and the Vikings won 31-17. 

Thursday night the Golden Gophers basketball team, who had built up a fat 15-1 record largely by playing every obscure school in North and South Dakota, shocked Bo Ryan’s team by outlasting Wisconsin 78-74 in overtime. At the Kohl Center. Where Ryan had previously lost a remarkable eight games in eight seasons, and only three games within the Big Ten.  

In fact, the Gophers men’s basketball team had never won at the Kohl Center, and hadn’t won in Wisconsin since 1994. And since that win came under disgraced head coach Clem Haskins, it doesn’t even officially count. You have to go back to 1992 to find a Gopher basketball win in enemy territory that stands in the record books.

Oops, I forgot. As of this week, you can’t call Minnesota and Wisconsin “enemies.” Government orders.

Minnesota and Wisconsin, uh, cooperated to give the frigid crowd at the Kohl Center a thrilling game, but one that added insult to injury for the fans who had braved Madison’s arctic air to attend.

Picking up on Governor Doyle and Governor Pawlenty’s new spirit of sharing, the Badgers and Gophers shared long stretches of ineptitude. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Minnesota was inept in the less-crucial first half — they were held scoreless for the final 7:50 of the period — while Wisconsin was inept in clutch time, especially when Minnesota began applying its stifling full-court pressure. Wisconsin’s offense was repeatedly forced into terrible shot selection down the stretch, and this frustration and sloppiness on offense translated into lackluster defense, particularly in the last five minutes of regulation, when Minnesota was able to rip off 20 points.

Two straight losses in the Big Ten may not seem like much, particularly to fans who weathered the football Badgers four-game Big Ten losing streak last fall. But it is indicative of a much tougher and improved conference.  That 29 -point victory against Northwestern on January 7 now looks like it will be the exception this year as the Badgers, now 12-5 and in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, don’t look to face too many easy games the rest of the way. Well, except those two against Indiana. This year’s Hoosiers look to have all of the toughness of my daughter’s  new Elmo Live. (Yes, I know you’ve fallen down, Elmo. Stop complaining about it! I’m trying to watch Rock of Love Bus!)

It’s too early to pull a Joe Buck and overreact to Bo Ryan’s two straight conference losses. But I wouldn’t expect Thursday night’s home loss to Minnesota to be the Badgers’ only home conference loss this season. Like the new spirit of collaboration that exists between the state governments of Minnesota and Wisconsin, there’s a new spirit within Big Ten basketball.  And it ain’t collaborative. It’s competitive the likes of which basketball in this conference hasn’t seen for some time.

But Wisconsin fans may come out on top in the next round of the  Minnesota-Wisconsin lovefest. Rumor has it that the Twins are looking to bring washed-up reliever Eric Gagne over the border. You remember Eric Gagne, who the Brewers invested $10 million in last season and who in return brought nothing but heartache and misery to Brewers nation. Surely Brewers fans would love to see Gagne choke away a few games for the Twins next season.

Quick: NFL playoffs this weekend. I’m tired of picking against the Cardinals. Gimme them and gimme the Steelers. Home field advantage has to count for something at this point in the season. Have a great weekend. Enjoy the all-too-rare above-zero temperatures.

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