Gophers ready for border battle with Badgers

Fresh off a Friday night win over Northwestern in Evanston, No. 17 Minnesota (8-7, 4-3) heads up I-94 with a pit stop on the way back to the Twin Cities for a Super Bowl Sunday matinee at the UW Fieldhouse in Madison with border rival Wisconsin (2-5, 1-4).

After back-to-back wins to close out their home conference schedule, the Gophers began a four-match road swing last weekend with a loss at Iowa but rebounded this weekend with a 22-20 win over the Wildcats in which the Gophers won six of the night’s 10 matches. After falling behind 8-0 after two matches, the Gophers won three straight, including an upset at 149 pounds for No. 16 Jake Short over No. 4 Jason Tsirtsis and a pin in just 30 seconds for Brandon Kingsley at 157. The win was the third in the past four duals for Minnesota, building on home wins over Rutgers and Purdue in mid-January.

Minnesota GophersWhile Minnesota knocked off Northwestern on Friday night, the Badgers got into the win column in Big Ten competition with an exciting 18-15 win over Rutgers in New Jersey. A pin to open the dual by Ryan Taylor at 133 pounds made the difference in the final score as the remaining nine matches would all end in decisions, the last coming at 125 when Johnny Jimenez knocked off Sean McCabe to break the 15-15 tie and win the dual for Wisconsin.

After blowing out Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, 43-0, to being the season, the Badgers had lost five straight duals, the last four to Big Ten opponents, prior to the upset win over the Scarlet Knights. It’s been a daunting stretch for Wisconsin – every opponent since Whitewater, continuing through Sunday’s dual with the Gophers and the next two following, are all currently ranked in the top 25.

The Gophers and the Badgers did not appear on each other’s schedules last season. They most recently met in January 2014 at the Sports Pavilion, where the Gophers cruised to a 28-6 victory. Minnesota dropped decisions in the first two matches but finished with eight consecutive wins, including four major decisions, to run away from Wisconsin. The win was the Gophers’ third straight in the series, a streak they will put on the line this Sunday.

This weekend’s contest marks the 94th all-time meeting between the Gophers and the Badgers. Minnesota has a 60-32-1 record in the rivalry, including victories in the last three matches and six of the last seven. UW’s only win over Minnesota since 2008 came in the 2010-11 season.

There are few similarities in either team’s lineup to those that wrestled two years ago. Each team will have just one starter back in action on Sunday. Coincidentally those two – TJ Ruschell and Brandon Kingsley – will wrestle a rematch from January 2014. Their last meeting was Ruschell’s only match at 157 in ‘13-14. Kingsley earned a 6-2 decision as part of the Gophers’ sweep to the finish.

The only other match on the card with collegiate history comes at 285, where Michael Kroells holds a 7-5 win over Brock Horwath from the Flash Flanagan Open during Kroells’ redshirt season (2012-13).

The two teams will put a combined five, top-10 wrestlers on the mat Sunday – No. 9 Kroells, No. 7 Tommy Thorn and No. 3 Brett Pfarr for Minnesota; No. 7 Taylor and No. 3 Isaac Jordan for Wisconsin – and all five will wrestle unranked opponents. Minnesota’s fourth-ranked wrestler, Short, will also wrestle an unranked opponent on Sunday.

Sunday afternoon’s dual will be streamed live on BTN Plus starting at 12 p.m. Central. As always, Gopher Wrestling will be providing its followers with mat-side updates throughout the dual on Twitter.

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