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No. 22 Wisconsin, after suffering an embarrassing loss at Western Kentucky on Dec. 29, is eager for a fresh start in the new year.
The Badgers (10-3, 2-0) play host to Minnesota (11-2, 1-1) in Big Ten play on Thursday at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin has won eight straight over the Gophers overall and own a seven-game home streak in the series.
Wisconsin tumbled seven spots in the AP poll after losing 83-76 to the Hilltoppers. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said the Badgers made too many mistakes against Western Kentucky, which shot 67.8 percent in the second half.
"The second half specifically, Western Kentucky took advantage of a lot of our mistakes and made us play," Gard said. "I knew watching them on film they were better than a 6-6 team. If you get some confidence and get going, which we allowed them to do, they took advantage of it and that had a snowball effect."
Better offensive efficiency and improved defense is an aspect to watch on Thursday. The Badgers scored on just 35 of their 73 possessions against the Hilltoppers. Meanwhile, Wisconsin allowed a season-high 83 points.
"It was a good lesson for us, as long as we take it and get better from it," Gard said.
The Badgers will lean on preseason AP All-American Ethan Happ against the Gophers. Happ is averaging 19.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game. Sophomore guard D'Mitrik Trice has played well through the first 13 games to give the Badgers a reliable second scoring option. Trice is shooting 50.7 percent on 3-pointers, averaging 15.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
Minnesota is coming off a solid 71-53 win over Mount St. Mary's. Four players, led by Dupree McBrayer (15 points), scored in double figures. Amir Coffey added 13 points. Daniel Oturu had 12 points and 10 rebounds, and Jordan Murphy poured in 10 points with nine rebounds.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino is counting on his starters to be leaders during Big Ten play.
"If we want to do what we're trying to do it's five guys. It's Michael Hurt; it's Eric Curry; it's Amir, Dupree and Murph," Pitino said. "Those five guys know what it takes to win in this league. Those guys went a whole month of February (7-0 in 2017) and did not lose in this league."
The Gophers' bench has struggled to deliver consistent scoring, but Curry's return could help. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Curry averaged 5.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in his freshman season but sat out last season and the first 12 games because of a torn ACL.
He made his season debut against Mount St. Mary's, scoring four points and grabbing six rebounds in 17:31 of game time.
"It was very important to just get my game back," Curry said. "The game is totally different than practice. Just to get the feel of the crowd and the movement of everything is amazing."
The Gophers struggled shooting 3-pointers late in December, making 4 of 19 from beyond the arc in their last game and 4 of 20 against North Carolina A&T on Dec. 21.
Updated January 2, 2019