At A Loss for Words

It was too little, too late. Wisconsin's 17-4 run cut the lead to four in the final minute was just a big tease, as the Badgers' energy and their season ended two victories short of the program's first Final Four since 2000.

New Orleans - Laissez les bon temps rouler.

Let the good times roll. That's the unofficial motto in the Big Easy, a city still nursing a hangover from the Mardi Gras parades that rolled through the streets over the past month.

Though they just arrived to New Orleans this week, the Wisconsin basketball team had the look of a group that had weathered Bourbon St. since the first beads were thrown.

Far from Madison, the Badgers looked like a fish out of water, shooting an uncharacteristic 30.4 percent (17-of-56) from the floor on a night where Butler brought an aggressive man-to-man defense throughout.

"They're scrappy, relentless," said Jordan Taylor of Butler. "I mean, I don't know, they're tough kids. They never quit."

"He said it," echoed Jon Leuer. "They're just tough kids that are all-around good players, and they play to their strengths."

Coming off a National Championship appearance against Duke in last year's tournament, No. 8 Butler put an end to No. 4 Wisconsin's bid for its first Elite Eight since 2005 with a 61-54 victory Thursday night.

"It's always tough when it ends, when you've got to put the balls away and the uniforms and practice gear," said head coach Bo Ryan.

For the Badgers (25-9), it marked the final chapter in a season where Ryan's club – overachievers on his chart - went 13-5 in the Big Ten and landed tournament wins over Belmont (72-58) and Kansas State (70-65).

"We just needed to put a few more minutes together so we could keep dancing, but the music stopped playing," Ryan said.

Butler guard Shelvin Mack was the man that unplugged the radio for the final time, knocking down a fallback jumper with 55 seconds to play to give the Bulldogs a 55-49 lead – enough breathing room to outlast a Wisconsin team that surged back from no man's land to pull within four points with a minute left.

Down 33-24 at halftime, Ryan's halftime speech likely had a central them: knock down open shots.

Then came the final 20 minutes, where the Badgers sputtering offense came to a screeching halt.

Mack's layup 11 seconds into the second frame got the scoring going, but Wisconsin wouldn't find their first bucket until the 14:03 mark, a scoring drought that allowed the Bulldogs to open up a 42-26 advantage.

When Mike Bruesewitz finally hit a jumper to stop the bleeding, Ryan – pacing back and forth along the sidelines – tossed both hands in the air in a fitting "it's about time" moment.

If a first half where the Badgers shot 4-of-11 from three-point range and 8-of-23 overall was painful to watch, it wasn't long into the next frame before Badgers fans back in Wisconsin turned away from the television.

UW missed on 10 straight field goal attempts to open the half, finishing just 3-of-18 from three-point range and 9-of-33 from the floor.

"We touched the post four out of five times and come away with nothing," said Ryan, whose team was outscored by double-digits in the paint during the first half. "You need to dent and get numbers moving on the scoreboard. I really liked the way we touched the post, and you've got to come away with something; a foul, a bucket or both.

"And once we didn't score inside, I think the guys got a little gun-shy and then we started looking to hit some from the outside. And that didn't work."

Despite being down 20 points at the 11-minute mark, the Badgers didn't go away without swinging a few punches.

When Butler finally went quiet, the Badgers slowly chipped away. After a Matt Howard layup pushed the lead to 49-32 with 8:14 left, the Bulldogs scored just once more from the field, allowing the Badgers to reel off a 17-4 run that played out as their last dance of 2011.

Then came the comeback killer, the lone bucket across the final eight minutes: Mack's jumper with 55 seconds to play.

For Wisconsin, it was an uphill battle that didn't get any easier when Butler put on the cruise control.

"The end result is on the stat sheet here, so it obviously was too late. But we're really not an extended team, and what happened was they were," Ryan said. "They looked as if they said, okay, we've got a big enough lead, we're going to try and get them to foul us.

"The discipline that our players showed not to foul was really something we were proud of because we talk about it in practice. I was impressed."

While it was too little, too late, Ryan wasn't short on praise for the overall effort his club gave over the past few months.

"I'm really proud of these guys," Ryan said. "I really think they've had – when you look at the entire season, just there are things accomplished this year that people never dreamed of with this group. Not just individual things with the triple-double or this scoring binge or this comeback or whatever, but just you take the whole season, it's pretty good stuff."

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