Despite all the offensive woes it experienced this week, Wisconsin was still sitting pretty in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic on Sunday night, leading Notre Dame 43-32 with under 10 minutes left to play. The collection of mental errors and poor shooting that followed, however, looked more like a doomed train barreling off track.
The Fighting Irish (7-0) used a 26-5 run -- including 15 straight points -- to crawl back and take control of the game, handing the Badgers a 58-51 loss. As the momentum shifted during the run, Wisconsin players kept handing Notre Dame lifelines, by fouling on a three-point attempt, fouling 93 feet from the basket and allowing second-chance points off of missed free throws among other things.
"Obviously we showed signs that [when] we're clicking, things can go really well," senior forward Jon Leuer said. "We just had a few dry spells in there where we made some mistakes, missed some shots and made some turnovers and, until we get a full 40 minutes together, we're not going to reach our full potential."
Sure, it could be worse. Wisconsin (4-2) won two out of three games after all. But that fact will provide little solace to a team that sported a lackluster offense for much of the weekend, especially against zone defenses. For the first time in recent memory, an opponent effectively shut down Leuer and no one else on the team stepped up to ease the pressure. Jordan Taylor tried to strap the team on his back, but missed 13 of his 19 shots. Somehow Leuer finished with 19 points to lead the Badgers.
The other red flags that raised concern after the first two tournament games also resurfaced.
For a large chunk of the game Notre Dame sat in a zone and dared Wisconsin to do damage from the outside. Besides the consecutive threes by Leuer, Tim Jarmusz and Taylor in the second half, UW hit only 4-of-20 from long distance. The team is shooting 21-of-80 (26%) on 3-pointers in the last four games.
Coming into the game, Wisconsin wasn't the only team misfiring though. Notre Dame had already endured a 1-for-20 performance behind the arc against Cal. Wisconsin held the Irish to 35% shooting in the final in fact. The difference was that the Irish found a way to fill in the gaps by staying aggressive. It was Notre Dame's toughness that embarrassed UW. The Irish destroyed the Badgers on the boards (40-28, 12 offensive) and got to the free throw line frequently even before Wisconsin tried to extend the game by fouling.
With Leuer and his supporting cast struggling to score consistency, the wild momentum swings that followed Wisconsin this whole tourney continued. The Badgers allowed an 11-0 run to end the first half and the aforementioned streak that buried them in the second.
Throughout the Old Spice Classic, something has been missing from the team. Call it aggressiveness, urgency, or toughness, or a mixture of all three elements ... Wisconsin appeared to lack it. Those players which fans have come to expect a bit of an edge from did not provide it against Notre Dame either. Mike Bruesewitz was limited by foul trouble and Josh Gasser suffered through his worst game yet before fouling out.
Much like any recent Purdue game, you can chalk it up as another defeat that wasted a fine effort by Keaton Nankivil, too. Nankivil packed the stat sheet with nine first-half points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and five blocks, not to mention another two-handed monster dunk that posterized two Notre Dame players. But like his teammates, Nankivil was not aggressive enough to match the Irish. Leuer was the only Badger to attempt any free throws, while six different Irish players made freebies.