After throwing away a 19-point lead against the Nebraska Cornhuskers (5-10 Big Ten, 12-14 overall) to lose in overtime 73-63, the Wisconsin Badgers (6-8, 14-10) have to pick up the pieces and try and beat the Michigan Wolverines (8-6, 14-11) if they want to keep postseason hopes alive.
This story is starting to get old.
Wisconsin failed to capitalize on its chances against the Huskers. Much like they did against Northwestern (twice) — who just upset then-No. 1 Purdue Sunday. And in need of something to spark the season, Wisconsin finds itself in a crucial week ahead of them.
Along with the clash against Michigan on Valentine’s Day, the Badgers host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Both teams are in the same weird mid-level of the Big Ten that looks more like a bunch of crabs in a bucket than a conference standings. If the Badgers can win both, they start to bring themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation.
But that is a big if, as Wisconsin can’t seem to keep momentum in games, or during the season.
A big part of Saturday’s defeat to Nebraska was guard Keisei Tominaga and the other Huskers suddenly getting hot from three-point land as UW started to go ice cold. In the second half, Nebraska shot 54% from behind the arc as the Badgers hit just 21%.
Perhaps the most noticeable miss was from Chucky Hepburn. The sophomore and Nebraska native — who was booed almost every touch by the Husker faithful — took things into his own hands in the last possession, with UW having a chance to put the game away and escape.
Instead of driving to the hoop, Hepburn — who led UW with 19 points on the day — went iso and jacked up a long-range three. Those decisions from the sophomore to take a three instead of attacking the paint have been a constant frustration from fans and head coach Greg Gard.
Another sad story for Wisconsin fans was senior Tyler Wahl’s scoring struggles. While the forward had seven rebounds and five assists, he managed only six points for the Badgers after being the leading scorer for the early part of the season.
As the Wolverines come to town on Valentine’s Day, there is sure to be not much love lost between the two programs. Last year, infamously, there was the scuffle involving Michigan head coach Juwan Howard laying hands on Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft after (during?) the postgame handshake line.
Although Gard said there are no lingering ill feelings between him and Howard, Michigan center Hunter Dickenson added fuel to a rivalry earlier this season. In a podcast appearance in January, Dickenson called the Badgers “scumbags.”
While Badger fans likely have not had that fact lost on them, Dickenson will be the main attacking threat for the Wolverines, especially down low. The junior big man leads Michigan with 17.9 points per game and will likely look to take advantage of UW’s lack of depth in the front court.
Both teams come to the matchup in need of a win. One team will have its heart broken on Valentine’s Day, while another will keep hope alive for an NCAA Tournament spot. The game tips off at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN Tuesday at the Kohl Center.
For those going, AreaRed is planning a blackout, so come support your team!
#Badgers fans, @AreaRED is planning a blackout at the Kohl Center today! pic.twitter.com/3jABTpbMIP— Bucky’s 5th Quarter (@B5Q) February 14, 2023