In Greg Gard's first game as interim head coach, the Wisconsin Badgers went from playing their best basketball of the season to nearly suffering a catastrophic collapse.
Scoring at a high clip of efficiency on offense and clamping down on defense, the Badgers jumped out to a 68-38 lead over Green Bay with 13 minutes to play. They were on their merry way to a cakewalk, it appeared.
Wisconsin could have kept its foot on the gas pedal, throttling the Phoenix into submission in the second half.
Instead, it took its eyes off the road completely, yanked a sudden U-Turn and nearly crashed head-on into rush hour traffic.
The Badgers (8-5) inexplicably pulled a full Dr-Jekyll-to-Mr-Hyde as the Phoenix cut a 30-point deficit down to three points with under one minute to play. Wisconsin, however, was able to hang on by sinking five of six free throws in the game's final 21 second to eke out a 84-79 win on Tuesday at the Kohl Center.
How does it happen, exactly, that a team can go from playing that well to playing that poorly?
Most glaringly, Wisconsin turned the ball over 26 times on the night.
The Badgers turned the ball over on eight consecutive possessions late in the second half as Green Bay used an 11-0 run to cut the lead from 72-55 to 72-66.
Forward Nigel Hayes scored 24 points to lead the Badgers, who appeared to play some their best basketball of the season for a majority of the game.
The Badgers shot 16-33 (48.5 percent) and held the Phoenix scoreless for a stretch of over nine minutes en route to gaining a hefty 48-27 lead at halftime. Green Bay cut the lead down to 22 points, but Wisconsin rattled off eight consecutive points for its biggest lead of the game at 68-38.
Then, it all turned south. Quickly.
Aided by Wisconsin's sudden inability to handle Green Bay's full court defensive pressure, the Phoenix went on a 33-6 run that turned a comfortable night at the Kohl Center into yet another nail-biter against an underdog opponent for the faithful in cardinal red-and-white.
A three-pointer by Phoenix guard Carrington Love, who finished with 28 points on the night, cut the Badgers lead to 79-76 with 59 seconds remaining and capped off a 38-11 spurt.
After Wisconsin guard Bronson Koenig's eighth turnover of the night, Love had a chance to draw Green Bay to within one point at the free throw line with 27 seconds to play. Instead, he missed the front end of the bonus and Hayes grabbed the board.
Forwards Ethan Happ and Vitto Brown and guard Jordan Hill went 5-6 at the free throw line over the game's final 21 seconds to secure the victory for the Badgers.
Happ finished with 16 points and eight rebounds, while Brown added 15 and 9 for the Badgers.
When Koenig and guard Zak Showalter both picked up two fouls within the game's first seven minutes, Hill was forced into his first extensive game action of the season. By the end of the game, he delivered the best performance of any Wisconsin guard on the night.
Coming into the game without any points, Hill finished with 10--including a three pointer before the first half buzzer. The redshirt sophomore added four assists and four rebounds, as well.
Hayes epitomized offensive efficiency. He took 16 shots on the night--seven from the field and nine at the charity stripe--and only missed one.
After the teams exchanged leads to open the game, Green Bay went on a scoreless drought of 9:13 as Wisconsin reeled off 17 consecutive points to jump out to a 32-16 advantage.
Wisconsin finished the night shooting 49.1 percent--27 of 55--from the field. On a night when the Badgers hadn't shot as well, it easily could have been an absolute nightmare in Gard's debut.
Gard may have left the arena without a loss in his short tenure at the helm of the Badgers, but his team nearly caused him to lose his mind.