IOWA CITY, Iowa—Matt Gatens came into Thursday’s game against No. 15 Wisconsin (9-6 Big Ten, 20-8 overall) shooting 40 percent from three-point range, so when his first attempt found the bottom of the net, it did not come as a surprise.
But then he hit again. And then again and again and again.
The senior guard poured in 18 first-half points and finished the night with 33 as the Hawkeyes (7-7, 15-13) topped UW 67-66 in a raucous, sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“He’s obviously an unbelievable player,” UW sophomore guard Josh Gasser said. “Any time a streaky shooter like him gets a couple early, he just felt ever since.”
Gasser was charged with checking Gatens most of the night. By the second half, he showed outward frustration and fatigue as the Iowa City native kept piling up points.
“We were there for a lot of them but he made some tough shots,” Gasser said. “He made shots most players wouldn’t make. You think you’re playing pretty good defense and it just turns out it’s not good enough.”
Gatens’ 33 points was the most scored against the Badgers since Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen scored 38 points in the third round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Before Thursday, UW had won 54 consecutive games when it shot a higher percentage (50.9) than its opponent (48).
The Badgers shot 57.7 percent (15-26) in the first half but trailed by nine after allowing the Hawkeyes to roll up 43 points. Ball security killed UW, as Iowa turned 11 turnovers in to 12 points in the first 20 minutes.
“It’s a part of the game but usually for us it’s not 11 in a half,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said.
“Big picture, that’s probably the thing that cost us the game,” Gasser said.
The Badgers turned the ball over just twice in the second half, and used two runs to try to climb back in the game.
UW junior reserve guard Rob Wilson (11 points) started a 12-2 run with 4:37 into the second half with his first points of the night. He and sophomore guard Ben Brust combined for all 12 points on the run, as Brust closed the lead to 51-48 with 12:08 remaining.
“It was huge,” Brust said of Wilson’s contribution. “He kind of sparked one of our first comebacks. He made some plays and it’s good to get some production off the bench.”
UW needed the contributions. Gasser and junior forward Ryan Evans led the Badgers with 14 points each, but combined for just six points in the second half.
In a game Iowa led start to finish, though, Gatens made sure UW could not come all the way back. He hit a jump shot and Brust missed a long three before the under-12 timeout and Iowa quickly extended the lead back to double digits.
“You have to give them credit, they hit some timely shots when we made some runs,” Brust said.
The Hawkeyes stopped finding answers after Aaron White’s layup with 7:29 remaining made it 63-52. However, the Badgers trimmed the defecit to 63-61 on Brusts’ three with 21 seconds remaining.
“Defensively, we did a much better job in the second half,” Ryan said.
Fittingly, Gatens sealed the win with two free throws in the final four seconds.
“Matt hit some incredible shots,” Brust said, pausing as he searched for words to describe the performance. “Geez.”