Nobody thought it was going to be this tough.
Marquette guards Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue pummeled their UW counterparts, scoring a combined 35 points as Marquette held off a late charge to make it two straight over its rivals to the west, a wire-to-wire 60-50 victory, at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Also playing without senior forward Mike Bruesewitz (concussion), Wisconsin (6-4) fell to 1-4 against 2012 tournament teams, and have lost its most game prior to conference play since UW coach Bo Ryan's first year in 2001.
"Definitely discouraged," said senior Jared Berggren, who finished tied a team-high with 9 points. "Basically every big test we've had, we've come up short."
For two players in Wisconsin's starting lineup and two of the first three players off the bench, it was the first time on the court in the longest nonconference rivalry for Wisconsin basketball. It showed in an ugly first 20 minutes.
Wisconsin's youth at guard was exposed by Marquette's speed, transition offense and by Blue, who switched his commitment in October 2009 to Marquette from Wisconsin so he could play a more up-tempo style.
Debuting the pace of play he coveted and one that the Badgers failed to keep it, Blue was active driving to the basket, swift on his pull-up jumpers and deadly on his perimeter shooting, especially swishing his two three-point heaves just before the shot clock expired.
Marquette scored 13 fast-break points off 10 Wisconsin turnovers in the first half. The fast-break points got so bad that Wisconsin allowed junior Davante Gardner – all 290 pound of him – to grab the defensive rebound and rumble 50 feet down the floor for a layup on the other end, forcing Ryan to burn a timeout to cease momentum on an 11-2 run that led to a 34-20 halftime lead.
The one-time Wisconsin commit scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half, and kept his defensive intensity high throughout the game while not committing a turnover.
"We wanted to make sure we got Wisconsin uncomfortable in a way," said Blue. "When Wisconsin does what they want to do, they are pretty good with the tempo they want to play at. We wanted to make sure we had extreme ball pressure, make sure they play with their butt to the glass and make sure they get uncomfortable."
On the flip side, guards Ben Brust (3-for-13, two turnovers), Traevon Jackson (1-for-6, four turnovers) and Zak Showalter (two turnovers) struggled to slow the tempo to Wisconsin's liking and prevent outlet opportunities.
Starting for the first time in place of Bruesewitz, freshman Sam Dekker scored UW's first five points, but finished 2-for-10 and six points. He led the team with eight rebounds, as Wisconsin shot 32.7 percent (17-for-52).
In the first half, Marquette outscored Wisconsin 22-8 in the paint, 10-7 off turnovers, 5-0 off second-chance points and 12-4 off bench points, but the killer was the fast-break points that were caused by the turnovers and long rebounds off eight missed three-point attempts.
"That was about as bad as we can play really," said Berggren.
When asked what the biggest problem was in the first half, Jackson was blunt was a response of ‘me.'
"We didn't take care of the ball and it started with me," said Jackson. "We just got rattled by the pressure … We didn't execute, and that starts with me."
When Blue slowed down offensively, Cadougan heated up. Scoring 14 of his points in the second half, the senior delivered a knockout blow when he converted a three-point play as the shot clock expired. After Wisconsin spent the majority of the second half whittling down the lead, Cadougan's basket put Marquette up 53-44 with 2:34 remaining.
"They made a couple plays and we didn't make plays," said Berggren.
With an injured Josh Gasser sitting behind the Wisconsin bench with his surgically repaired knee elevated on a folding chair, the Badgers' guards almost had as many turnovers (six) as points (seven) in the first half, but crept back into the game after halftime when Wisconsin started to play its brand of basketball.
Being aggressive to the bucket, drawing fouls and hitting 3-point jumpers, a 10-0 run that turned into a 14-5 run got the lead down to four with 8:10 remaining. The drives to the paint yielded multiple trips to the free throw line, as Wisconsin got into the bonus with 12:36 remaining and the double bonus with 8:52 left.
Wisconsin might have taken its first lead of the game, but a horrendous evening from the free throw line ruined any hopes of a lead.
Finishing 9-for-12 from the line, senior Ryan Evans was the biggest offender by going 1-for-9. He missed five attempts in the second half, two coming on the front end of the bonus and three misses that could have cut the lead to three points or fewer. Evans' only make was when he banked in an attempt.
"I think it cost us the game tonight," said Evans. "I'm going to get back to it, work a little bit harder and change things around."
Evans' final two misses started a string of six straight empty possessions for Wisconsin after cutting the lead to 48-44 with 7:13 left. By the time Wisconsin scored again on back-to-back threes from Berggren and George Marshall, UW was down five with 50 seconds, and didn't score again.
"I liked the fight in our guys," said Ryan. "The execution of some things …"