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January 18, 2014

Too little, too late for Badgers' D





MADISON, Wis. - Had Saturday night's matchup between the Michigan Wolverines (13-4, 5-0) and the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers (16-2, 3-2) been a Miami Heat game, there would have been a long line of fans trying to find their way back inside the Kohl Center for the final five minutes. Unfortunately, for Badgers fans, the result was not the same as Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals as the Wolverines walked away with a 77-70 victory - their first road win against a top-five opponent since 1964.

"You don't want to lose two in a row, especially on your home court," Sam Dekker said after the loss that sent the Badgers to 16-2 on the season and 3-2 in Big Ten play. "We were a little bit embarrassed there when they took it to us in the first half."

Wisconsin allowed the Wolverines to shoot a blistering 60.7 percent from the field on 17-of-28 shooting in the first half on their way to 43 points. It was the second-highest first half total the Badgers had allowed all season (45, North Dakota) and just 19 points shy of what the Badgers typically allowed in the 17 games prior. Michigan finished the game shooting 54.7 percent (29-of-53) from the floor, including 48 percent (12-of-25) from three-point range.

The Wolverines began the night hitting 12-of-15 (80 percent) from the floor and saw their lead implode to as many as 10 points in the first ten minutes.

Ben Brust admitted that the Badgers did not play their best defense and that they have to improve on that end of the floor if they want to get better, but he also recognized that on some nights there is just nothing you can do against a team that is hot from the field.

"Give credit to Michigan, because credit is due," Brust said. "They made a lot of shots and they earned it."

Unlike the team's loss to Indiana on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall, the Badgers' problem defensively was not their lack of paint protection, but Michigan's ability to free up their shooters by using ball screens.

"They made some tough shots so what are you going to do sometimes," Josh Gasser said of the shots Michigan was getting. "We just needed to be a little more physical on them in a couple of those screen situations early in the game. That really hurt us."

The Badgers actually held the Wolverines to just 26 points in the paint - exactly half of the total they allowed to Indiana - and only allowed four second chance opportunities on three offensive rebounds, but it was the perimeter shooting that aided Michigan to its first win at the Kohl Center since 1999.

"We took away the glass from them and we took away the drives to the rim and said 'okay, you're going to have to make tough twos." Bo Ryan said of his team's defensive gameplan. "It wasn't the twos [that hurt us], it was [Caris] LeVert hitting those threes when we didn't really close out as fast as we could have."

Caris LeVert, who was guarding Brust last season when he hit the half-court shot at the end of regulation that ultimately lead to a Wisconsin victory, netted 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting while connecting on all three of his three-point attempts.

Nik Stauskas, who had just five points on 2-for-7 shooting in last season's 65-62 loss at the Kohl Center, scored a game-high 23 points on 7-for-17 shooting from the floor and 3-for-9 from beyond the three-point arc, including a clutch step-back three over Nigel Hayes with 50 seconds remaining to give the Wolverines a 71-67 lead.

"When they have such talented scorers, you have to pick your poison," Gasser said.

Upon being asked if the same troubles that haunted his team on Tuesday night were a factor in tonight's loss, Ryan stopped and paused for a minute to think.

"Maybe in their minds they're thinking 'well we need to take away the drives because we let that get away last game.' So sometimes when you are trying to fix something," Ryan said, "guys aren't quite sure and you just have to keep working through it."

This isn't the first time that the Badgers have walked away from a game disappointed with their effort on the defensive end as Wisconsin is allowing its opponents to score an uncharacteristic 62.8 points per game.

"I know the weaknesses and other people will eventually find out," Ryan said when asked if this team has what it takes to be good defensively.

Wisconsin did turn it around defensively in the final moments of the game, holding Michigan to 1-for-7 shooting while forcing two turnovers during a 14-4 run that covered 5:27 and cut the Wolverine lead to 67-66 with 50 seconds to play. Michigan was held scoreless in six straight possessions after scoring on seven of its previous nine.

"Where was that?" Ryan questioned of his team's defense to close the game. "You can't wait."

At the end of the day it was a little too late for the Badgers, who now head on the road for two tough tests against Minnesota and Purdue.

"We're not happy about it," Gasser said, "but we have to move on."

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow Zack on Twitter.


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