The Badgers were desperate for a bounce-back game against Penn State; that following two losses by a double-digit margin. A win would mean an extra day of rest with a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. In the long run, it would provide a catalyst into the postseason.
With the game even at 60 and time ticking away, sophomore guard Traevon Jackson buried a buzzer-beating three. It was just one shot and one win, but may prove to be much more important than that.
"If we had not come out on top, I think it would have been a confidence killer," sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky said.
Wisconsin's run in the Big Ten Tournament opened with a 68-59 victory over fifth-seeded Michigan. With the benefit of a first-round bye, the Badgers were rested, prepared and poised for their trip to Chicago.
The immediate reaction to Jackson's game-winner was pure jubilation. Not long after on that Sunday, Indiana topped Michigan to secure the Badgers' first-round bye. Traveling back from State College, the Wisconsin flight was pleasant.
"It was a big lift for us," said senior forward Mike Bruesewitz. "Coming home, it made the plane ride better. Everybody can talk. It just made things better."
The following day, Wisconsin was rewarded with an off day to rest and recuperate. There was a sense of security built around the Badgers' postseason promise.
"There's a positive vibe in the locker room, there's a positive vibe with the fans," senior forward Ryan Evans said. "It's just a good feeling."
The carryover of confidence we evident. Michigan may have been the favorite, but it was Wisconsin which dictated the game. The Badgers bounced back from a sluggish first half, starting the second stanza on a 12-4 run. When the Wolverines charged back, Wisconsin separated away. Again, Jackson delivered in the clutch, this time hitting five free throws in the game's final two minutes.
Wisconsin will meet top-seeded Indiana in Saturday's semifinals. The Badgers can keep bolstering their NCAA Tournament résumé while making a run for the conference crown. They feel optimistic about their odds.
"It's all about who's hot at the right time," Kaminsky said.
For Wisconsin, the thrilling victory offered a timely confidence boost. Now, it's poised to keep building through the conference bracket and into the big dance.
"You've got to have some momentum and you've got to play well," Bruesewitz later said. "But we've done it before."