As always, the Badgers and Hawkeyes played an intensely physical game Wednesday night at the Kohl Center. - Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports
728 days after their last win against Iowa, the Badgers finally squeak out a win against their rivals from the southwest.
MADISON, Wis. -- On February 9, 2011, Wisconsin won 62-59 over the Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in overtime. Current Badgers had four points -- two each from Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans.
Thursday night -- 728 days later -- Wisconsin (16-7, 7-3) won its first game against Iowa (14-9, 3-7) since. It took 14 ties, six lead changes and two overtimes, but the Badgers scratched and clawed their way to a 74-70 victory.
Sam Dekker hit the go-ahead three in the second overtime. Traevon Jackson hit the game-tying three in regulation. Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans hit 8-of-8 free throws in overtime despite marks under 50 percent in conference play. The list of heroes was long -- as we should expect with a game following such a winding, twisting road.
Dekker, whose shot was the effective game-winner, just may deserve top billing. He spent much of the two overtime periods on the bench, only earning entrance upon Mike Bruesewitz's fifth foul and disqualification. It was certainly a new experience for the freshman, a player used to being the star with the ball in his hands at Sheboygan Lutheran.
"I just had to keep myself mentally into the game," Dekker said. "Coach said to me a couple times he kept those other guys into the game for experience factors and stuff. As confident as I am, I wanted to be in there, and I felt like I could be doing stuff out there, but you can't get down and you can't complain or get frustrated."
"He stayed loose over on the bench. He was bouncing his legs and staying ready," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
"Coach turned to me before the tip at second overtime and said, 'You have to be ready, the guys are getting tired, fatigued,' so I just kept myself loose and he turned to me," Dekker added. "You just have to go out there with the same mindset, confidence and energy."
"Yeah. I hit a big shot," the freshman beamed.
After a hot start -- the Badgers led 28-17 with just over six minutes to go in the first half -- Iowa dominated the game, sucking the air out of the Kohl Center and seemingly pulling in every available offensive rebound. The Hawkeyes finished with 18 offensive rebounds (34.6 percent of missed shots). Iowa went on a 20-minute 34-14 run -- beginning with a Fran McCaffery technical foul with 6:14 to go in the first half -- to take a 51-42 lead with 6:14 to go in the second, and the Kohl Center was as dead as it can possibly get with a crowd of 17,000 people inside.
Wisconsin scored just 11 points in the first 14 minutes of the second half. They scored 16 in the final six -- Ben Brust scored seven, Berggren and Evans added three each, and Traevon Jackson notched the game-tying three on a shot that hit seemingly every point on the rim, reminiscent of his game winner against Minnesota.
"We just hung on, hung on and hung on some more," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "They'll say we didn't quit -- of course -- and Iowa didn't quit either. We just made some shot and gave ourselves a chance."
The overtime periods were stereotypical Big Ten fare. The two teams combined to make just five field goals and score 28 points in the 10 minutes of play (just eight points combined in the first overtime).
In a fitting twist of seemingly season-long fate, it was free throws that kept Wisconsin in the first overtime and eventually won it in the second. The Badgers hit all four free throw attempts (accounting for all four points) in the first overtime and nailed nine of 10 attempts in the second -- Dekker's go-ahead three-pointer was the squad's only field goal in either overtime period.
It was not a shooting night for the ages from either side -- not a single player with at least five field goal attempts shot over 50 percent from the field, and both teams finished at 33.8 percent overall -- 25-of-74 for Iowa, 24-of-71 for Wisconsin.
Mike Gesell led Iowa with 15 points despite hitting just five of his 15 attempts from the field. Brust's 18 points paced Wisconsin despite a 6-for-14 shooting performance (3-for-9 on three-pointers).
Jared Berggren may deserve player of the game honors for Wisconsin, though. He picked up a double-double with 16 points (5-of-14 shooting) and 14 rebounds (eight offensive, six defensive) and set a career-high with seven blocks. After starting 1-of-3 from the free throw line -- dropping his conference free throw percentage to just 44.4 at the time -- he hit his final five free throws, all coming in the final minutes of the second half and overtime.
Although the two overtimes inflated the final score, it was clearly a defensive battle even beyond the shooting percentages. Both teams scored under a point per possession (in a 79-possession game) -- 89 points per 100 possessions for Iowa against 94 for Wisconsin -- as the Badgers continue to live off defense. It marks the sixth time Wisconsin has held a Big Ten team under 90 points per possession this season, two more than last year's squad -- a team that finished fifth in the country in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com.
With the victory, the Badgers move into a tie with Ohio State for fourth place in the conference at 7-3 and stay a game and a half beyond conference leaders Indiana. In addition, Coach Ryan moves to 139-57 in Big Ten play for his career, tying Ohio State's Thad Matta (105-43) for the best winning percentage in conference history.