The Wisconsin Badgers turned the ball over constantly and struggled at the free throw line during a poor first half performance, but turned things around to down the Arkansas Razorbacks, 77-70, to leave Las Vegas with a win.
On Friday night, the Badgers weren't themselves defensively and were outplayed by a strong Creighton team, forcing them into Saturday's third place game at the Las Vegas Invitational.
The first half of Saturday night's game looked like the beginning of an unfortunate repeat performance, but Arkansas couldn't maintain their tempo through the second half. Simultaneously, Wisconsin stopped turning the ball over and started making open shots. Without a fast break to turn to, Arkansas was lost offensively in the second half.
Wisconsin actually started strong and did not trail until 13:30 remaining in the first half, but when things started to go downhill, they went downhill quickly for the Badgers. Arkansas' run started on two successive turnovers by George Marshall just before the under-12 minute media timeout, both of which were turned into easy layups by the Razorbacks.
From the under-12 to under-4 timeout, Wisconsin scored just five points, all of which came from Ryan Evans. Turnovers and poor shooting persisted all the way to the end of the first half, and Arkansas carried a 40-29 lead into the break. At halftime, Wisconsin had already committed eight turnovers, was 7-15 from the free-throw line, and was shooting just 32 percent from the floor.
Whether Bo Ryan had a powerful message for his team in the locker room or they just simply started playing up to their talent level, something changed for the Badgers right away in the second half. Ben Brust made all of his three baskets during the first seven minutes of the second half, while Arkansas struggled to create offense without turnovers to create it for them.
Wisconsin tied the game back up for the first time at 45-45, thanks to a three-pointer by Sam Dekker with 12:18 remaining in the game. The freshman forward had his best offensive game as a Wisconsin player on Saturday night, shooting 7-13 from the floor to lead the Badgers with 19 points. UW went ahead 53-51 on a three by Mike Bruesewitz with 8:12 left in the game, and they did not trail for the rest of the game.
Bruesewitz was one of Wisconsin's top performers on the night, mostly due to his consistent presence on defense even during UW's roughest patch in the game. The quantifiable aspects of his performance -- 11 points, nine rebounds and just one turnover -- were solid, but don't tell the entire story with him, as always. His half-court defense was key for Wisconsin throughout the game.
As poor as Wisconsin's free throw shooting was in the first half, everyone was clutch at the line down the stretch. Arkansas began to foul with a minute remaining, down six points, and the Badgers' performance at the line prevented them from getting back into the game. Bruesewitz and Brust both hit clutch foul shots in the final minute, while Traveon Jackson -- who was 9-11 from the charity stripe on the night -- went 4-4 from the line in the final 30 seconds of the game to ice the win for Wisconsin.
UW heads home from Vegas to take on Virginia at the Kohl Center on Wednesday. They play at home again a week from Sunday, against Cal. The Badgers will be expected to win both games at home, but both teams should present solid tests for Wisconsin ahead of their big rivalry game against Marquette, in Milwaukee on December 8.