The effect of junior forward Jon Leuer's hiatus was in plain sight Wednesday night and put Wisconsin in an unfamiliar place at the Kohl Center—trailing its opponent.
The Badgers' ice-cold start gave Michigan the opportunity to build up a sizeable lead on No. 19 Wisconsin and forced head coach Bo Ryan's team to play uncharacteristically, which was also the case at Northwestern and Ohio State.
Since Leuer went out with the wrist injury the Badgers have tended to fall back on their 3-point shot because of difficulties getting the ball into the paint. Junior forward Keaton Nankivil has the size and strength to lace up with some of the better post players in the conference, but sometimes he lacks the aggression or hesitates to take the defender one on one.
When the Badgers are in the position of playing from behind, Ryan's formula to stay in the game is very simple: Play strong defense and get the ball in the paint.
""Defensively you just need to keep going toe to toe and give yourself a chance, just hang in there, and that's all we kept talking about,"" he said after the win. ""Offensively, we gave Keaton his chances, and he's going to bury somebody sometime if they keep that five-man back there in the paint.
""But there's different ways to get the ball into the post, a pass or a dribble. We got the ball into the post several times tonight, a lot of times on penetration, and those ended up creating opportunities.""
Whether it was the back-to-school blues or just rust, it took Wisconsin almost the whole first half to stop throwing up 3s and show Michigan it has a post game.
The Badgers shot a miserable 10 percent from behind the arc in the first half and 4-of-24, or 16.7 percent, for the game. Wisconsin missed six straight 3s within the first four minutes of the game and had the Kohl Center crowd very uneasy.
In the three games without Leuer, the Badgers relied on the 3-point shot a bit more than usual. They took 24 in the win against Northwestern, 26 in the loss to Ohio State and 24 last night against the Wolverines. Wisconsin averaged 20.5 attempts in its first four Big Ten games with Leuer in the lineup.
""We're just going to keep finding ways [to win],"" Ryan said about the increase in 3-point shots. ""Could be 10 the next time, could be 40 the next time, whatever the defense is going to give us.""
Senior guard Trevon Hughes wouldn't say they're depending too much on the 3-ball, but conceded it may seem like that.
""It looked [like we're relying on the 3], and we're going to have to change that, we know that. We have to stay disciplined and play Wisconsin basketball, which is getting into the post and shooting more free throws [than our opponents].""
It wasn't until the late moments of the second half that the Badgers' post penetration started to produce open looks. After Hughes hit a jumper with 3:07 remaining, the Badgers had their first lead of the night, and the swagger of that team that beat Duke and Purdue finally showed up.
And if the Badgers have one constant in Leuer's absence, it's Hughes, who played hero again and took over in crunch time. He's averaging 18 points over the last three games.
Michigan's collapse couldn't have come at a worse time. After the upset over Connecticut, the Wolverines were riding high, but they could not hold it together to hand the Badgers their first home defeat.
""We played hard for so long, but we couldn't get some shots to drop, and they hit some really timely, tough shots down the stretch and got to the foul line on us,"" Michigan head coach John Beilein said. ""Those were the keys.""
The win marks Ryan's sixth straight win over Beilein at the Kohl Center and is his 99th Big Ten victory.