Wednesday night's loss to Milwaukee hurt Wisconsin's tournament profile and sapped its momentum. To this observer, it also felt very similar to a shocking home loss to Northwestern two seasons ago. I wasn't able to watch either game live, but upon hearing the outcome, my only response was "How?!?"
Re-watching the second half of UW's most recent failure, though, the answer in this case was evident.
Wisconsin answered Milwaukee's strong 7-0 run to start the second half with an 8-0 run of its own to reassert its dominance at 48-36. But the Badger offense inexplicably broke down with about 13 minutes to go. That coincides with the departure of Ethan Happ with his third foul.
Milwaukee nailed an immediate three-pointer, but let's rehash what the Wisconsin offense was up to with Happ on the bench.
Neither Bronson Koenig nor Vitto Brown had his jumper going and that spells doom for the Badgers if they are not getting offensive rebounds. After a quick miss from Koenig, UW moved to some high pick-and-roll action with Koenig and Nigel Hayes, but all it led to was a quick missed jumper from Brown and a bad pass from Koenig out of bounds.
Still up 51-45 now, Wisconsin's next possession featured some shaky passing and good defense from the Panthers. Result? Desperation three-point attempt from Koenig to avoid a violation. And Milwaukee is ending all of these possessions after one shot with solid rebounding.
Here's where things got interesting. Hayes wisely posts up a mismatch, gets a foul, but misses both free throws. Hayes is aggressive again after a UWM miss, but throws a hard, high pass that ricochets off Brown's hands. Zak Showalter tries to save the ball from becoming a backcourt violation by jumping near midcourt and flinging the ball backwards while in the air.
Okay, first of all, Showalter stepped over the line, so the ref should have whistled the violation. Secondly, just grab the ball and take the violation Showy. Instead it turns into a three-point play opportunity because Showalter also fouls J.R Lyle in the act. (Note: Showy had great position to take another charge actually, but Lyle was too high in the air to make much contact. A no-call in my opinion.) Lyle, of course, misses the free throw to set up the long con. With 10:10 remaining, the score is 51-47, Wisconsin.
Happ hasn't been on the floor at all during this 9-2 Milwaukee run, but he returns and immediately receives a pass with a nice lane to the hoop. But Lyle pokes it free. Turnover.
Things go downhill from here. Wisconsin was playing with fire at this point at a stretch where the game was lost offensively by an impatient Badger team.
* Milwaukee easily burns Wisconsin again throwing a pass over a smaller player fronting the post with no help. Koenig tries to answer quickly, but misses a long step-back two.
* A mix up between Showalter and Khalil Iverson leaves Austin Arians wide open in the corner, but he misses. Again. Hayes senses the offense grinding and wisely gets to the hole with a dribble drive. A foul puts UW in the double bonus for last 8:57. But Hayes misses both free throws. Seconds later he makes two to push the lead to 53-49. Milwaukee is chucking and missing this whole time.
* Koenig adds another long missed two-pointer.
* With about 5:30 left, Brown misses for the eighth and final time, but Hayes (finally) corrals an offensive rebound. Hayes literally stared at Vitto, who was wide open down low, for a full three-count, then just took it himself.
* Finally, a post feed ... to Brown? Okay. He goes 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
Obviously, Hayes did bail the Badgers out to some extent, but it was a one-man show. You notice Happ's name doesn't pop up here anywhere. Until the 4:12 mark when he pokes the ball loose but has to settle for a jump ball, possession arrow to Milwaukee.
Bang. The long-suffering, conscious-less Arians hits a trey to cut UW's lead to 60-58. Of course he did. An ominous cloud consumes the Kohl Center.
* At the 3:38 mark, Happ gets called for a phantom travel. For real, bad call. Rewound it five times. I guess his teammates lost faith in him after that, because here we go again.
* Terrible three-point shot by Hayes. Matt Tiby is fouled on a breakout at other end and ties the game.
* Koenig misses yet another jumper. Milwaukee point guard Jordan Johnson gives UWM its first lead of the game. He flexes a little because he knows the Panthers are going to take the game. Johnson scored 22 points and looked in control all night -- he's the one who ended Wisconsin's early second half run when the game could have gotten away.
That was kind of all she wrote. We've been singing Ethan Happ's praises a lot on B5Q lately and hopefully that doesn't have to stop. Because without Happ, Wisconsin is strictly a jump shooting team -- and a very mediocre one at that. Happ finished with a 10-point, 15-rebound double-double, but only one bucket and six boards came after intermission.
Despite a career night from Hayes, the reigning Big Ten champions still lost to an in-state foe they hadn't lost to since 1992. A team with so little clout that they've only hosted four games against Wisconsin in the last 15 years.
And Milwaukee wasn't doing anything too special here. The Panthers shot 36 percent for the game. What they did well is limit Wisconsin to only four offensive rebounds in the second half. The Badgers responded by playing right into their hands and settling for too much isolation and too many jumpers.
* * *
Just think about how improbable a win it could have been.
I'm not sure what Vitto Brown what thinking on his coast-to-coast take when he got called for a charge with about a minute left. He pulled his left arm in to brace for contact, making it look like he might have pushed off. Problem is that Tiby was clearly still moving laterally. Not the worst call I've ever seen because I can understand what the ref thought he saw in real time. The issue is that a guy like Brown will NEVER get the benefit of the doubt in that situation. He looks too awkward doing it. Had the call been an "and-one," maybe Wisconsin wins -- Brown is mostly money from the stripe.
Then again, Hayes got away with a foul on the Arians three-pointer at the other end on the ensuing possession, so it evens out.
That defensive stand set up Koenig for a classic "too little, too late" three-pointer and then Milwaukee turned the ball over on the inbounds play! Down 68-67, the final possession was bad, but of the same variety as we've come to expect from the Badgers. Bo Ryan puts the ball in the hands of his point guards for hero ball time and time again. Koenig should have gone to the hole -- he admitted as much post game -- but I don't take issue with the timing of the shot. With over four seconds left, you have time to rebound and theoretically, time to foul if necessary to gain one last heave at a tie or win.
Yet it sure would have been nice to get the ball to Hayes on the block to draw a foul. I don't see Hayes missing four straight free throws in that spot. You have to give it to Milwaukee, the Panthers defended it well and Koenig didn't have time to wait around for that to develop.