It might be time to reset expectations for this basketball season, as the No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (9-6 Big Ten, 15-7 overall) fell again to the No. 3 Michigan Wolverines (9-1 Big Ten, 14-1 overall) 67-59 in a game that slipped right through the Badgers fingers.
Michigan came into this game after having been on pause since Jan. 23, when the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services ordered an immediate shutdown of all University of Michigan athletics in response to alarming rates of the B.1.1.7 variant of COVID-19 on campus.
The nearly three week pause in team activities showed early in the game as Wisconsin was able to dictate how the game was played. Michigan was stagnant on offense and defense, allowing the Badgers to shoot 5-7 from beyond the arc to help them pull out to a 14 point lead late in the first half.
However the Wolverines came to play in the second half, totally flipping the script on Wisconsin en route to their victory.
Michigan outscored the Badgers 40-20 in the half — including 18-8 in the paint, 9-4 in second chance points and 22-14 in the rebounding column.
“You have to make plays and convert in the end,” head coach Greg Gard said after the game. “The offensive rebounding was the backbreaker at the end, you have to finish possessions out when you force tough shots.”
Despite shooting and rebounding woes, Wisconsin actually found themselves up three points with four minutes left, but were then promptly outscored 13-2 in the final 3:51 to eventually lose by eight.
“We have to put together a full 40 minutes to win games like this,” Aleem ford said after the game. “We have to be able to punch back when we get hit in the mouth, and we weren’t able to tonight. We got put on our heels and got lackadaisical.”
There are a lot of shocking stats from this game, but perhaps the one that stands out above the others are Wisconsin’s two big men failing to secure even a single rebound. Overall the Badgers weren’t outrebounded by a super wide margin, but Potter and Reuvers failed to tally a rebound throughout the whole game.
The Badgers leading rebounder today? Brad Davison with six.
Nine Michigan points came off four offensive rebounds in the final six minutes of the game. Hunter Dickinson was able to feast on Wisconsin’s big down low, putting up a double double with 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks to boot.
“It gave them some crucial opportunities late they were able to capitalize on,” Ford said. “We did a good job stopping them but we have to finish the play so we don’t give those points up and get things under control.”
At a point in the season where teams should be playing their best basketball, Wisconsin is now 4-4 in their last eight games, and 6-5 in their last 11. Obviously the Big Ten is an ungodly difficult conference to try to rack up wins in, but this Badger team has been expecting better results.
“We showed in the first half that we can do it and can be a special team, but we have to be able to do it for a full 40 minutes,” D’Mitrik Trice said. “This [loss] definitely hurts, especially since we led for 75 percent of it. But we have a lot of good competition in front of us, we can’t hang our heads.”
Four of the last five games for Wisconsin will come against ranked opponents, a stretch that will start with a game against No. 15 Iowa in Madison next week and include No. 6 Illinois, No. 24 Purdue and another matchup with No. 15 Iowa to end the year. If the Badgers are going to shine and make a run in March, time is running out for them to prove they have what it takes.