It's really a shame that Wisconsin students were away on winter break for this game. Because a classic, intra-conference thriller like this one deserved a full student section. While the crowd was a little late in arrival (damn NFL), they were as raucous as ever. In a battle between two of the top four teams in the Big Ten, Wisconsin came away with a 75-71 victory after rebounding from an ugly first half. Wisconsin is now 15-0, and off to the fastest start in team history.
We all knew going into this game that Iowa's height would prove challenging for the Badgers, especially when 6'3" Josh Gasser matched up with 6'9" Aaron White. This size advantage made itself clear on the scoreboard as well. Iowa dominated on the glass in the first half, with a 15-4 rebounding advantage at one point. Wisconsin didn't do themselves any favors by going ice-cold from the field for essentially the entire first half. They started out 1-11 from the floor in the first 12 minutes, with only a Frank Kaminsky triple keeping them afloat. In addition to the poor shooting, they struggled from the foul line. Sam Dekker continued his oddly rough season from the line, going only 3-7 from the line for the game.
With about 9 minutes left in the first half, Iowa found themselves in foul trouble. At that point, the Hawkeyes had 7 team fouls, compared to the Badgers' 2. From then on, Wisconsin tried to claw their way back on the backs of Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. Even though they put together a 14-4 first half run, Iowa held a 30-22 lead with about 4 minutes left in the half. Iowa then responded quickly with a 10-0 run of their own, with Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble hitting big shots late. The first half ended with a bang for Iowa, as Gabriel Olaseni slammed down an alley-oop to send the teams to the lockers.
The first half numbers were not kind to Wisconsin. Only 4 players (Gasser, Kaminsky, Jackson, and Bronson Koenig) made field goals in that half. They looked absolutely overmatched on the glass as well. Iowa missed 17 shots, but wound up with 11 offensive rebounds. In addition, Iowa had 18 second-chance points. Dekker was absent for most of the first half, and Iowa took a seemingly commanding 35-24 lead into the locker room.
Wisconsin came out large in the second half. Bo Ryan kept Jackson and Dekker on a very short leash, and took both of them out with after only two minutes. While it isn't great seeing their two best offensive creators on the bench, it's important that those two stay composed and reigned in. And it didn't help that Iowa couldn't be stopped offensively. Thus, Bo threw out a lineup of Josh Gasser, Ben Brust, Duje Dukan, Nigel Hayes, and Frank Kaminsky. That lineup helped to turn this game around, but they still struggled with fouls. Gasser and Hayes were the main culprits, but they were able to play responsibly while in foul trouble.
The game started to turn in favor of Wisconsin when Melsahn Basabe fouled Duje Dukan on a three-pointer. At that point, the team couldn't buy a foul shot. But Dukan knocked down all three of them, pulling the game within 4. After an Iowa foul sent Nigel Hayes to the foul line, this happened.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery clearly was not happy with the referees, even though there weren't any glaring missed called to merit that type of reaction. Even so, he let them have it. McCaffery was given two technical fouls and ejected, giving the Badgers 4 technical-foul free-throws (remember that number!). Ben Brust calmly knocked down all four, and Hayes hit one of two from the line. That swing gave the Badgers a 3 point lead. Side-note: Nigel Hayes is built like a Toyota RAV4. He is incredibly strong down low, and had yet another nice game, ending with 8 points. Once he learns how to use his body properly, he'll be incredible. But he tends to get into foul trouble rather quickly.
After a scoreless first half, Ben Brust came up huge in the second. He ended with 19 points, including with three daggers from behind the arc. However, his backcourt partner Traevon Jackson didn't have such a great game. Jackson ended with 7 turnovers, and made some very questionable decisions with his passing. Even though his trademark mid-range jumper was falling, he struggled to break the press and kept the Badgers from blowing this game wide open.
Roy Devyn Marble exploded late in the game, and knocked down a giant 3 with 2:43 left to pull the Hawkeyes within one. But at that point, Sam Dekker finally came through. With 2:30 left, Dekker grabbed a Brust miss, stepped back behind the arc, and knocked it down. In a game where he looked visibly frustrated with his inability to score, Dekker came up big when it mattered most. As the clock dwindled down, Josh Gasser was intentionally fouled twice, and made all 4 of his free-throws. Even though Marble wouldn't go away quietly, the Badgers held on.
While it's not fair to say that Fran McCaffery's double-technicals won this game for the Badgers, it's necessary to point out the importance of those Brust free-throws. After that moment, this game took a major Badger turn, and they didn't look back. It wasn't pretty, but Wisconsin continues to find ways to win against solid competition. No disrespect to the 1913-14 Badger Basketball Team, but the 2013-14 squad deserves to be the fastest-starting team in Wisconsin history.