ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The last time Wisconsin was on the road, it saw a 12-point lead evaporate quickly as then-winless Rutgers hit shot after shot en route to arguably the most surprising result of the college basketball season.
So when Wisconsin found itself on the ropes again Saturday night in Ann Arbor, Mich., after building an 11-point lead early in the second half, you can bet the flashbacks were hard to put to rest.
But unlike their last road test, the Badgers had Frank Kaminsky in the lineup against Michigan. On the strength of the senior's 22-point, nine-rebound effort, Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) was able to escape from the Crisler Center with a 69-64 overtime win.
After weathering a quick 5-0 start from UW courtesy of sophomore guard Bronson Koenig, Michigan (12-8, 5-3 Big Ten) was able to settle in on both ends of the floor, slowing down the high-powered Badgers offense with a zone scheme that dared Wisconsin to rely on the deep ball.
"They were really packing it in and letting us take outside shots," Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said. "We know what to expect. We've knocked them down a lot of games and we've also struggled some times. That's why you have to hang your hat on the defensive end."
Despite having a distinct size advantage up and down the lineup, Wisconsin struggled to finish off possessions against a Michigan team that is still very athletic even after the loss of junior guard Caris LeVert. The Wolverines were able to use that athleticism to control a number of 50/50 balls, finishing the night with 16 second-chance points to match the UW total.
"It was a battle all the way through," Koenig said. "We came out shooting really well but they answered every call and beat us on the offensive boards."
After Michigan took its largest lead of the game (23-21) on a jump shot from Mark Donnal with 3:13 left in the first half, Wisconsin responded with a three-point play at the other end. Those three points, the first for sophomore forward Nigel Hayes after an 0-of-4 start from the field, sparked a 9-0 Badger run over the final 2:50 of the half, allowing UW to take a 30-23 lead into the break.
Though the Badgers were able to sustain the momentum for the first few minutes of the second half, Michigan quickly turned the tide. After back-to-back media stoppages, Michigan got a deep three from sophomore Zak Irvin that began an 11-0 run, erasing what was Wisconsin's only double-digit advantage of the night. Up 11 points with just 15:49 remaining, the Badgers' lead was gone less than six minutes later.
Seemingly on the verge of running away with the game just a few minutes earlier, UW now found itself back in the same situation it ultimately couldn't handle just 13 days ago.
"You try not to [have flashbacks] but you are aware of moments like that," Gasser said. "But we've worked on stuff in practice so we are really comfortable in those situations."
After the teams traded long threes, Wisconsin answered with a run of its own. Out of a UW timeout, junior forward Sam Dekker, dealing with a hand injury sustained during a dunk late in the first half, nailed a deep jumper as the shot clock expired. The Badgers finally secured successive stops at the defensive end and when Koenig delivered two of his four assists, to Gasser and Dekker respectively, the lead was back to seven.
Michigan responded with a 5-0 run of its own to keep the game close, but it looked like it would be too little, too late. Although Dekker was sidelined for the final 4:41 of regulation due to his hand injury, Wisconsin maintained its lead heading into the final minute. Though Gasser was unable to connect on what would have likely been a game-clinching three-pointer with 56 seconds left, UW again responded with a stop at the defensive end.
Michigan was forced to foul several times, as it had just three team fouls through the first 19 minutes of the half. Eventually, the Wolverines sent Gasser to the line and many UM fans to the exits with just 31 seconds left and the Badgers lead at four. But when Gasser, an 85 percent free throw shooter coming into the game, missed the front end of a 1-and-1, Michigan had a chance.
Sophomore guard Derrick Walton, Jr., cut the lead in half with a drive to the basket and, after Koenig split a pair of free throws, cut the lead to just one point with a pair of his own from the charity stripe. Koenig answered with two clutch free throws and the stage was set with Michigan taking over down three and just 10.6 seconds on the clock.
Rather than foul with the three-point lead, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan had his team play the possession out. After a defensive breakdown, Walton got free on the left wing and was all net with the jumper, tying the game at 57-57 and sending the now-returning Crisler Center crowd into a frenzy.
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"We have a philosophy," Ryan said with regard to his decision not to foul. "There are times when we will [foul]. We never got into that situation. We were trying to set it up but we were just a little late."
As they did last year in the Elite Eight against Arizona, the Badgers went right to Kaminsky as overtime began. Seemingly unfazed by what had transpired over the final minute of regulation, UW jumped out to a quick six-point lead behind a Kaminsky three-point play inside and a long three from Gasser, erasing any thoughts of a letdown from the fifth-year senior in the wake of his earlier missed free throw.
"It's definitely a little deflating," Gasser said of how regulation came to a close. "But that first possession of the overtime when we got that and-1, that just built up our confidence. So I think that was the biggest play of the game on our end."
Michigan responded with a bucket from freshman guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, but never could string together possessions in the overtime period. After the quick start, Wisconsin's lead never dropped below four as the Badgers iced it away at the free throw line.
While all five UW starters finished with at least nine points, the Badgers did not get a single point from their bench. Michigan, on the other hand, stayed around precisely because of their bench, which contributed 26 points as a group, including nine from senior forward Max Bielfeldt, who came into the game averaging just 3.6 points per game in Big Ten play.
But in the overtime period, it was the starters who proved to be the difference. From that first possession, Wisconsin made a point of getting the ball to Kaminsky every time down the floor. Ultimately, that resulted in eight of the Badgers' 12 points in the extra frame, more than enough to head home with the victory.
"It's really nice to have him in there." Koenig said of Kaminsky's performance in overtime. "It felt like he either got a foul or a bucket every time."
In just the contrast between losing at Rutgers and winning in Ann Arbor, the Badgers have a clear picture in mind of just how important the 7-foot senior is to their chances for their first Big Ten title since 2008.
"He is one of the best players in the country," Ryan said of Kaminsky. "Frank means a lot to this team."