Nik Stauskas (11) hit a late 3-pointer to help Michigan upset the Badgers on Saturday.
Michigan 77, (3) UW 70: Down again
By ZACH HEILPRIN
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin was brought down to earth in their first loss of the year on Tuesday to Indiana. Following a second-straight loss – this time a 77-70 setback to Michigan (13-4, 5-0) -- the third-ranked Badgers (16-2, 3-2) have started to dig themselves into a hole in the Big Ten race.
“It’s why you can’t look back,” said Josh Gasser, who led the Badgers with 16 points. “You’ve got to just keep moving forward.
“We’re in the Big Ten. It’s the toughest conference for a reason. You’ve got to play really well to win games in this league. Doesn’t matter where you’re playing. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
Gasser and the rest of his teammates may want to look forward and not back, but without fixing the issues that led to the two losses there will be plenty more the rest of the season.
For a second-straight game the Badgers struggled on the defensive end. Whereas in Bloomington the issue was not guarding the paint (52 points allowed) very well off of ball screens, this time Wisconsin saw shots – some contested and others not – off the ball screens – something Michigan knew they could take advantage of coming in.
“They were giving us that open 15-foot jump shot,” said UM’s Glen Robinson III, who finished with 14 points. “They were kind of collapsing back. We’ve been working on that at practice throughout the week, and I thought we all did a great job knocking down that shot.”
UW coach Bo Ryan said it felt like a football game where you fix one issue – Michigan had just seven layups or dunks and 26 points in the paint -- only to have another emerge.
“Maybe in their minds they’re thinking, ‘Well we need to protect the driving lines, we let that get away from us last game’,” Ryan said. “So sometimes when we were trying to fix something, guys aren’t quite sure and you have to just keep working through it.”
The Wolverines picked up their first win at the Kohl Center since 1999 largely due to their shooting. They started the game 12 of 15 from the field – including 4 of 4 from beyond the arc – and shot 60.7 percent (17 of 28) in the first half. Guard Caris Lavert, who didn’t score in last year’s game in Madison, had 13 of his 20 points in the first 20 minutes. Despite the hot shooting, UM led by just five at the break.
That lead ballooned to 15 in the second half and Michigan led 60-45 with 10:39 left in the game. The Badgers went on a 22-8 run and closed it to a 68-67 game. Needing one stop Wisconsin thought they had it – a shot clock violation when a Nik Stauskas 3-pointer hit the bottom of the backboard with 1:14 left. But a foul was called on Gasser for holding Michigan’s Jordan Morgan – giving the Wolverines the ball and a fresh shot clock.
“I definitely grabbed him,” Gasser admitted. “It’s a tough call in that situation. Is it going to be called or not. I don’t know. I didn’t really see it, how it looked but I was just fighting around him like always. Morgan’s a smart guy. He’s going to sell it, like he should. They got the call, which was unfortunate.”
It was because of what happened next. Stauskas, with freshman Nigel Hayes guarding him, dropped a cross-over, step-back 3-pointer on the Badgers to take a 71-67 lead with 48.1 seconds left.
“I was just trying to be aggressive and get to the rim,” said Stauskas, who led Michigan with 23 points. “I saw (that) he kind of overplayed me a little bit so I pulled back, went (between my legs), he kind of slid forward a little bit and I was open for three. I was just trying to be aggressive and shoot it.”
There was at least some surprise that Hayes got tabbed for the assignment of covering the quick and agile Stauskas considering he’s spent much of his first season guarding bigger players on the block. But Gasser said it’s really a pick your poison situation with the 6-foot-6 Canadian.
“That was a heck of play he made. You’ve got to give him credit for that,” Gasser said. “Nigel is a great defender. He’s very versatile. He can cover perimeter guys as good as anyone and he’s obviously strong for down low but the kid just made a great play. I’m sure Nigel would like to have it back. Try to contest it a little more but when you make a play like that you’ve got to give him credit.”
The Badgers weren’t able to get within one possession again and walked off the court as losers for the second time in five days.
“It’s disappointing,” said Sam Dekker, who had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds. “You don’t want to lose two in a row, especially (one of) them on your home court. So it’s disappointing and we were a little bit embarrassed there when they took it to us in the first half and beginning of the second half. We didn’t respond well to what they did. We tried to fight back there but when you put yourself in a hole like that it’s tough to comeback.”
The defensive struggles the past two games – and earlier this season – have to be especially tough for Ryan to deal with. He’s been known for his tough defense and rebounding throughout his 13 years at Wisconsin and at his stops at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Platteville. And this year’s issues are the complete opposite of what has hurt them in recent years – when the offense went cold but the Badgers defense kept them in games.
Wisconsin’s 70 points on Saturday marked the ninth-straight time they went over the 70-point mark – the longest streak since the 1992-93 season. But they’re allowing 68.4 points per game in Big Ten play – 14 more than they did a year ago through five games when they started 4-1 in the conference.
“The amazing thing is that last year when we didn’t do well offensively, we still did defensively with that experience we had on that front line we were making things pretty tough for people,” Ryan said. “We might not have looked good offensively, but defensively we still gave ourselves a chance. Offensively, the efficiency has been really good, but (not) defensively.”
Michigan shot 54.7 percent (29 of 53) for the game and were 53.8 percent (7 of 13) from beyond the arc. The Badgers finished 43.3 percent (26-60) from the field and 38.9 percent (7 of 18) on 3-pointers.
Many of the things the Badgers said leading into the Michigan game were said after the game as well. And while they are correct that one loss or two won’t determine their season, how they react and get better from those losses certainly will. And that starts with a trip to Minnesota.
“A lot of things we could have done better and a lot of things we have to correct,” Dekker said. “We can’t dwell on these though. There are a lot of ups and downs in the basketball season, so you can’t dwell on a game or two. A long way to go. We have another big one coming up this week so we’ve got to put our focus towards that now.”
Listen to Zach Heilprin every weekday on “The Jump Around” at ESPNWisconsin.com, and follow him on Twitter: @zachheilprin