Josh Gasser banks last-second 3-pointer to rescue Badgers
Excuse the pop culture and folklore references, but this was a lesson in Thievery 101. Wisconsin stole a game right from under Michigan's nose. Slurped it right up with a long straw.
After a grueling night of tossing up bricks and failing to convert on second chances, No. 12 Wisconsin still controlled its own destiny on the road with one final possession. Because the Badgers (21-6, 11-4 Big Ten) had only drawn two fouls in the second half, Michigan (17-12, 7-9) gave four straight fouls to zap all but 5.4 seconds off the clock. When Michigan's defense double-teamed Jordan Taylor on the next inbounds, the junior found an open Josh Gasser. Gasser then flipped a hurried 3-pointer from the top of the key that banked in to give Wisconsin a wild 53-52 victory.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the game came down to free throws. Not those of the Badgers, who shot only three of them, but Michigan's. Wolverine point guard Darius Morris missed the front end of a bonus opportunity that could have extended Michigan's two-point lead with 32 seconds left. The Wolverines shot only 5-for-11 (45.5%) overall from the charity stripe.
Losing deals a serious blow to the NCAA tournament hopes of the Wolverines, while winning did nothing to dispel the notion that Wisconsin struggles on the road.
Even in a game they had no business winning, Wisconsin deserves credit for never falling too far behind. Led by Jon Leuer's 12 rebounds, the Badgers hit the glass effectively and held a 31-26 edge in that department. Nine of UW's rebounds came on the offensive end, and honestly, it felt like more. Meanwhile, they held the host Wolverines to two offensive boards. Converting on those renewed opportunities was another story however.
The Badgers shot only 36% from the field and 8-for-29 (27.6%) on 3-pointers, for an eFG% of just 43.1. Keaton Nankivil displayed a very quick trigger and hit his first two treys, but cooled off after halftime. The whole team followed suit, finishing 3-for-17 (17.6%) in the second half. Leuer scored 12 points, but went 0-for-6 from long distance. Nankivil finished with 13 points and Taylor led the team with 20.
The game was tight throughout and slowed to a near crawl toward the end. There were seven lead changes. The largest lead for either side was five points, 27-22, by Michigan late in the first half.
Taylor and Nankivil combined for 18 straight Badger points in the second half to put UW up, 48-45, with 5:43 remaining. After a Michigan timeout, Morris answered with a jumper to pull the Wolverines within a point. A total of four more baskets would go in during the final five minutes. Gasser scored all five of his points to complete Wisconsin's scoring.
Besides the shooting, the story for most of the game was a simple failure to execute. Both Taylor and Gasser made questionable decisions, whether it be unforced bad passes or in Taylor's case, poor shot selection in crunch time. Seeing that Wisconsin only finished with five turnovers makes you think that UW could have realistically committed only one or two against the Michigan defense.
Wisconsin still has not found an answer for Tim Hardaway Jr. though. The freshman revelation led Michigan with 16 points, though he did have four turnovers. Bo Ryan went through 12 players trying to find the right combination, but it was clear he did not find an answer. Once again, Ryan's bench failed to score a single point. In the end, the Badgers survived, but just barely.
There is really no delicate way around the issue of Brett Valentyn playing extended minutes in an important game. Valentyn was unable to make his open 3-pointers after hitting a big one against the Wolverines in Madison. Kudos to Valentyn for earning those minutes in the rotation, but this is one game where the lack of experienced backcourt depth bit the Badgers. Rob Wilson may not have panned out as hoped, but last year's dismissal of Diamond Taylor and Jeremy Glover left freshmen and walk-ons as the only other options behind Taylor. The deficiency became more glaring as Wisconsin struggled to touch the post on offense, effectively negating its size advantage.