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January 18, 2014

Wolverines humble Badgers

MADISON, Wis. - If it were just one game you could have written off a few defensive lapses by the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers as an anomaly.

Two games make a trend, though, and it's a troubling one for the Badgers, who fell to the Michigan Wolverines 77-70 on Saturday in the Kohl Center despite a furious comeback attempt in the game's final minutes.

The Badgers (16-2, 3-2 Big Ten) whittled down a 15-point Michigan lead to just one point with less than two minutes to play, but they weren't able to overcome another poor start on defense. The Wolverines shot 60.7 percent from the floor in the first half, including 4-of-5 on 3-pointers, and took a 43-38 lead into halftime behind strong showings early on from Glenn Robinson III and Caris LaVert.

Wisconsin's defense improved marginally in the second half: they held the Wolverines to 48 percent from the field and managed to get stops on eight of nine Michigan possessions as Ben Brust, Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker chipped away at the deficit. A quick layup from Brust brought the Badgers back within striking distance, but Nik Stauskas hit a step-back 3-pointer over Hayes that gave the Wolverines a four-point lead with 50 seconds left in the game and cut Wisconsin's momentum short.

The loss is Wisconsin's second of the season after starting the year 16-0, and it comes just four days after the Indiana Hoosiers picked apart the Badgers' interior defense on their way to a 75-72 upset win in Bloomington. Dekker said it was disappointing to drop another game, especially after the team tried to address the mistakes that cost them against Indiana.

"You don't want to lose two in a row," Dekker said. "We were a little embarrassed there when they took it to us in the first half, and in the beginning of the second half we didn't respond well to what they did. We tried to fight back there, but when you put yourself in a hole like that it's tough to come back."

The Wolverines finished the game shooting 54.7 percent from the floor, with Stauskas leading all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-17 shooting. Michigan also made 53.8 percent of their 3-point attempts, including Stauskas' momentum killing shot at the end of the game.

Josh Gasser led the Badgers with 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the floor, including 4-for-5 from behind the arc. Kaminsky and Brust both finished with 14 points and Dekker finished with 10, but head coach Bo Ryan said his team's offensive efficiency won't matter if they don't make improvements on the defensive end.

"Some of these guys have to fight through some of this," Ryan said. "The amazing thing is last year when we didn't do well offensively ... defensively with the experience we had with that front line we were making things pretty tough for people. We might not have looked good offensively, but defensively we still gave ourselves a chance.

"Offensively the efficiency has been really good. But defensively you're playing teams where they've got you marked. They played us really hard, really smart, really well, and there's 18 of these. So can you do it the next time? Sometimes it doesn't work that way."

Now after a 16-0 start the Badgers have hit a crossroads. They have the offensive balance to keep up with anyone in the Big Ten, but they've been exposed on defense over the last two games, and road trips to Minnesota and Purdue could spell trouble if their interior defense doesn't improve.

Time will tell how far the Badgers will fall in next week's polls, but they'll need to bounce back from a disappointing string of games before they can be taken seriously as the Final Four contenders many people thought they were just four days ago.

"It's a very humbling game, that's for sure," Brust said. "But we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves by any means. It's a good opportunity for us, I'll tell you that much."

Ryan, Michigan
Players, Michigan

John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.

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