Butler gave Wisconsin a taste of its own medicine Thursday night in New Orleans and the Badgers choked.
The Bulldogs (26-9) played rock solid half court defense, ruled the boards (37-31) and pounced on fourth-seeded Wisconsin's mistakes. Nearly every intangible went Butler's way in its 61-54 win. The Bulldogs were quicker to loose balls and hit timely shots.
The Badgers (25-9), especially Jordan Taylor, lacked energy throughout the first half. Their deficit stretched to 20 points midway through the the second half before Wisconsin snapped out of its funk and pieced together a 22-6 run to cut Butler's lead to 53-49. But in a game where the Badgers shot just 17-for-56 (30.4%) it was much too little, much too late.
Senior forward Matt Howard channeled ex-Badger Mike Wilkinson and thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin's big men. Howard scored 20 points and grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. He hit three big 3-pointers and played strong defense.
Conversely, Jon Leuer had a forgettable final game in a Wisconsin uniform. Though Wisconsin's game plan included getting him the ball on the block, Leuer simply could not hit the looks he found, finishing 1-of-12 for three points. He missed two quick ones at the outset before nailing a 3-pointer to give UW a 5-1 lead, but then went scoreless for the final 24 minutes of the game.
Previous team strengths became weaknesses. Taylor made some downright awful passes and missed four of his first six free throws. Guys like Keaton Nankivil were a little too lackadaisical caring for the ball also. It was quite a contrast to how confidently Shelvin Mack and Shawn Vanzant operated all night.
By halftime, Butler had already cashed in 15 points on eight Wisconsin turnovers. The Badgers came in averaging only 7.6 turnovers per game and finished with 11.
To advance, Wisconsin would need to erase a nine-point Butler lead, 33-24, larger than any halftime deficit the Badgers had overcome all year. Instead, Butler came out swinging again in the second half. The boxing analogy fit -- Wisconsin simply could not absorb all the body blows.
Wrapped around the break was a streak in which the Badgers missed 17 shots in a row, going without a field goal for 11 minutes and 40 seconds. In fact, from the 4:58 mark in the first half until the 10:38 mark in the second, Mike Bruesewitz scored all Wisconsin's points. That is only five points in almost 15 minutes of basketball. The drought was back-breaking.
It was no surprise, though, that the streak-snapping basket came from Bruesewitz, who showed the most burst once again. However, the team failed to capitalize on the spark he provided in those moments, falling back into another scoring lull for three-and-a-half minutes. After converting on a three-point play to cut the gap to 42-27, Bruesewitz stripped Howard on defense, followed by Leuer drawing a foul inside. Tim Jarmusz missed a 3-pointer on the possession, but Bruesewitz grabbed the ensuing defensive carom.
Yet again UW settled for a missed 3-pointer and Howard answered with a deep, rainbow 3-pointer to end any realistic hopes Wisconsin had of winning the game.
Bo Ryan's crew did not give up however. They took advantage of a relaxed Butler offense and resorted to pressing in the final minutes to stir up some chaos. Consecutive treys by Taylor twice cut the lead to four points in the final two minutes.
But in the end, not enough shots went in. Bad shooting happens sometimes. On the other side of the country, the same thing happened to Nolan Smith and Duke in their loss to Arizona. It is just unfortunate when two of a team's worst performances come in its final four games.
Jarmusz and Nankivil hit shots early, but deferred to the team's stars to attempt the comeback, which made the offense easier to defend.
Taylor needed 19 shots to score his 22 points, including 3-of-10 behind the arc. As a team Wisconsin shot 7-of-29 (24.1%) on 3-pointers.
Missing as many shots as they did, Wisconsin needed to manufacture more second chances. The Bulldogs, continuing a tournament trend, held the Badgers to 12 offensive rebounds on 39 missed field goal attempts. Butler's Andrew Smith and 6'7" freshman Khyle Marshall combined for 13 rebounds, equalling the output total from Leuer, Nankivil and Bruesewitz.