There is a storm brewing in Iowa -- and I'm not talking about the snowy weather.
Despite out-shooting and out-rebounding Iowa on Thursday, the Badgers were mere pedestrians caught in the path of destruction left by Iowa's Matt Gatens. The senior guard scorched the nets for 33 points, breaking a career-high he set against Indiana four days earlier. Gatens hit his first six shots of the game and 7-of-10 on 3-pointers, finishing 12-of-18 overall. He is averaging 28 ppg over his last three outings.
Wisconsin's stars did not shine nearly as brightly in Iowa City. In fact, it took a strong effort by UW's supporting cast to even get the Badgers (20-8, 9-6 Big Ten) back into the game. Iowa treated its students to free tickets and the spectators were rewarded with a 67-66 win that earned the Hawkeyes (15-13, 7-8) a season sweep over Wisconsin for the first time since 1994-95.
The loss crushes what little hope the Badgers had left of being a factor in the Big Ten race. Meanwhile, Iowa is firing on all cylinders. A favorable schedule (@Illinois, @Nebraska, vs. Northwestern) sets the Hawkeyes up for a potential postseason run. It also puts the pressure on Wisconsin -- which travels to Ohio State next -- to keep winning, lest Iowa catch up in the conference standings.
Gatens set the tone from the start. He had eight points in the first 3+ minutes and 13 quick ones to put his team up 23-16 with a whopping 12:14 still left in the first half. He would finish the half with 18 points in machine-like fashion.
Luckily for Wisconsin, Ryan Evans was matching Gatens stride for stride early on. Evans scored 10 of UW's first 12 points in the opening four-and-a-half minutes. Back-to-back jumpers from Jordan Taylor then pulled the Badgers to within 23-20. Those would be Taylor's only two field goals until the final seconds of the game.
Both Iowa and Wisconsin shot over 57% in the half. However, the Hawkeyes had a clear advantage at the free throw line (4-of-7) and behind the arc (7-of-10). Iowa big man Zach McCabe even got into the act with two treys.
The fast pace favored Iowa's game plan as well. The Hawkeyes forced 11 Badger turnovers in the first half, including four by Taylor, which Iowa converted into 15 points. A mixture of fouls, poor play and a bump on the head limited Taylor to 29 minutes -- his lowest total of the season besides back-to-back games against Savannah State and Mississippi Valley State.
Plagued by turnovers yet again, Wisconsin surrendered a 12-4 late in the first half that roused Carver-Hawkeye Arena to new decibel levels. Josh Gasser kept things from getting out of hand with an 8-point run of his own while Taylor was saddled on the bench with two fouls. Following an Aaron White dunk off a Gasser turnover, the Badgers cut the lead to single digits with a buzzer-beating lay-in by Mike Bruesewitz. taking UW into the locker room trailing 43-34.
White started the second half with another dunk, but Gasser answered back quickly for Wisconsin. Gatens extended his two-game streak to 12 consecutive made 3-pointers before finally missing, but Iowa soon had its largest lead (49-36) of the game anyway.
Yet points did not come easy for either team after the break. In fact, Iowa took a page out of Wisconsin's playbook and survived the final 7:29 of the game without a field goal to win.
Rob Wilson showed major burst off the bench for Wisconsin and spearheaded a 9-0 run by the Badger reserves midway through the second half. The senior knifed into the lane and hit from the outside for seven of his 11 points during over a 1:47 span. When Ben Brust pulled up for a fastbreak 3-pointer to cap a 12-2 run, it looked like a whole new ballgame at 51-48.
Whereas Evans lost his way offensively, after Gatens cooled off, Iowa's leader stayed the course. Gatens outscored Wisconsin 10-2 on his own with four straight jumpers, including a dagger 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down that put Iowa back up by 10.
Gasser appeared to be the most effective defender against Gatens. However, Gatens was just too precise on this night.
As the clock ticked down, Iowa's offense ground to a halt however. Wisconsin squandered golden opportunities to right the ship a second time by throwing away back-to-back passes around the four-minute mark, the only two turnovers of the half for Bo Ryan's crew. By the time the Badgers got some shots to drop, it was too late.
The Badgers shot 29-of-57 (50.9%) compared to 24-of-50 (48%) by the Hawkeyes, but only attempted three free throws. Even though Wisconsin won the rebounding battle, 31-29, Iowa outscored UW by 19 at the stripe and from long distance to offset the visitors' edge in the paint.
Evans and Gasser led the scoring for UW with 14 points apiece, while Brust added 10 amid constant booing from the Iowa crowd. Jared Berggren added four more blocks to his total, but was a factor on offense.
Roy Devyn Marble dropped 11 points and eight assists for the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin is now two full games behind Michigan and Ohio State in the standings, with a trip to Columbus looming on Sunday. The Badgers remain in fourth place, one game ahead of Indiana and Purdue.
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