No.3 Wisconsin – an undefeated group with three wins over ranked teams (including two straight) with a pocket full of road and neutral wins – becoming unglued down the stretch?
"Guys were just worried about the fouls," said Ryan, following Wisconsin's 75-72 defeat at Assembly Hall Tuesday night. "The way it was being called, it was as if our guys became so tentative. It just really surprised me that our guys did not play the way we normally play."
In starting 16-0 for the first time in school history, Wisconsin had been winning based on its offense, but was slowly started to see its defense come around. Wisconsin held its last four opponents to under 40 percent shooting and were holding teams to 43.7 percent from two-point range on the season, including its first three conference opponents to just 34.8 percent inside the perimeter.
So the end result from Wisconsin's first loss was eye-popping and out of character; the Badgers giving up a season-high 52 points in the paint and allowing the Hoosiers to shoot 58.3 percent (28-for-48) from two-point range, a lot of those on drives to the hoop.
"The driving lines are what hurt us," said Ryan. "We could have done a better job with that."
The first loss exposed a number of issues that the Badgers (16-1, 3-1 Big Ten) need to fix before Michigan (12-4, 4-0) comes to town in a matchup that suddenly has increased importance for the home team.
Wisconsin allowed 41 offensive rebounds and 41 second-chance points in its wins over Iowa and Illinois. The Badgers gave up 11 such rebounds against one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, leading to only six second-chance points, but the numbers are misleading since Indiana only missed 30 shots.
"They got a couple easy ones that we just weren't tough enough, weren't physical enough," said junior Josh Gasser. "They just got easy ones and when the crowd gets into it like that, guys start feeling more confident to attack. That's everyone's strength on that team is attack to the rim. They were finishing and we didn't do anything to stop it."
The Badgers' bench also got a stark wake up call. Comprised of two true freshmen and a redshirt junior getting the most extensive minutes of his career, Wisconsin almost had as many fouls (4) as points (6) in 34 combined minutes. Junior Duje Dukan managed only one rebound in 11 minutes, while Bronson Koenig went 0-for-3 from 3-point range, score no points and committed two fouls in nine minutes.
Nigel Hayes faired the best with six points on 3-for-6 shooting, but committed two fouls and had two offensive rebounds ripped out of his hands. He only played five minutes in the second half.
"Off the bench we need a little bit more help scoring, but more importantly we need a little bit more help defensively," said Ryan. "I think those guys that struggled will get better, progress defensively."
Wisconsin also lacked the finishing push that had been present in wins over Florida, Green Bay, West Virginia and many others. Up 10 with 13 minutes to go, Wisconsin had seven empty possessions in a row and missed five 3-pointers on that stretch after Indiana crowded the lane. The result was a 12-0 Hoosiers run and UW never getting the lead back.
"When we get a lead like that on a home court, we've got to take advantage and extend it," said Jackson, whose career-high 21 points wasn't enough. "We didn't sustain that. Some of that was we didn't hit some shots. Some of that was because we let them get hot."
Now a game back of Michigan and Michigan State in the standings, the Badgers are facing a Wolverines team it has beaten 11 straight times at home (the longest home winning streak in the series), but a team that entered the week leading the conference in field goal percentage (48.1) and is currently tied with Wisconsin with a 1.22 points per possession.
"Disappointing? Sure," said Ryan. "I think our guys have worked extremely hard to be where they are right now. They've done a lot of really good things, and hopefully we have some more left in us."