The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (9-7 Big Ten, 15-8 overall) came up short against a top ranked opponent again Thursday night, falling to the No. 11 Iowa Hawkeyes (10-5 Big Ten, 16-6 overall) 77-62 in a contest that was really decided in the first 10 minutes.
Wisconsin started the game terribly, shooting 4-30 (13 percent) through the first 15-16 minutes of the game, while Iowa shot a comfortable 10-18 (56 percent) to build a 22-10 lead over Wisconsin early in the half. The lead for Iowa really should have been more, but six first half turnovers and eight offensive rebounds by the Badgers were able to keep Wisconsin at least somewhat in the game.
Aleem Ford and Johnny Davis were a combined 1-14 in the first half, accounting for almost half of the Badgers overall misses.
“We had a lot of good looks in the first half that we wanted, but you have to actually convert those chances or [Iowa] will eat you up,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “We made the run back at the end of the half, but the three at the end of the half and the and-one to start the second half killed our momentum.”
The Badgers went into the locker room down 36-27, but feeling somewhat lucky to only be down by single digits.
Wisconsin came out firing and playing solid defense in the second half, chopping the lead all the way down to three points halfway through the period. At one point Brad Davison was 5-6 from three point range and had hit four in a row to lead the Badgers back, but eventually Iowa was able to shake off their offensive funk and get back on the gas pedal.
Iowa went on a 19-8 run over the next six minutes fueled by four made three’s to put themselves back up 14 points and seal the game.
“No one’s going to feel sorry for us, and none of us are going to feel sorry for ourselves,” Micah Potter said. “If you do that everything gets worse. We need to be better and not make excuses.”
Potter played well overall, shaking off the bad zero rebound performance his last time out against Michigan. Potter put up 23 points and 11 rebounds, six of them offensive, on the night to lead the Badgers. Brad Davison had himself a very nice game as well, busting out a shooting sleeve for the first time this season and knocking in five of his eight three-point attempts for a total of 15 points.
“It’s tough when you dig yourself into a hole, and it’s something we’ve struggled with this year,” Davison said. “It’s frustrating and disappointing, but we know how good we can be and we’ll keep believing in each other.”
D’Mitrik Trice also put up a season high nine assists in the loss, topping an eight assist performance against Maryland in Annapolis.
Iowa’s Luka Garza exposed the Badgers defensive weakness inside the paint, putting up 30 points and eight rebounds tonight against the Potter/Reuvers duo. Wisconsin was outscored 26-14 in the paint, and somehow Iowa led in second-chance points despite getting 10 less offensive boards than Wisconsin.
Coming into this game the Hawkeye’s gave up an average of 72 points per game, which is good for 13th in the Big Ten. Wisconsin couldn’t get within single digits of that number, which really highlights some of the offensive struggles the Badgers have had this season.
Often the Badger offense is thought of as death by a thousand cuts this season without a true star on the team, but that hasn’t happened very much lately. Wisconsin is really looking for three or four of their players to score in double digits on any given night, but four players haven’t reached that total in nearly two months.
“It’s a game of runs and you have to make sure you don’t get too high or low when other teams are hitting shots,” Potter said. “It’s one of those things where you just have to stay confident, it’s all you can do.”
If Wisconsin is going to turn it around they need to do it soon, because time is running out before March. The Badgers have four games left in the regular season, including matches against No. 5 Illinois and another match against No. 11 Iowa before the Big Ten Tournament.
Wisconsin’s next game will be Sunday at Northwestern with tip off set for 6 p.m.. It’s a must-win for Wisconsin, who beat the Wildcats by 16 in their first matchup this season.