But then Michigan sophomore Nick Stauskas got the matchup he wanted to bury the crushing 3-pointer, likely taking Wisconsin top-10 national ranking along with it.
After going 2-for-16 against the Badgers in two meetings a year ago, Stauskus scored a game-high 23 points and hit the key 3-pointer with 48 seconds left to propel unranked Michigan to a 77-70 victory Saturday afternoon, continuing No.3 Wisconsin's misery.
After starting a school-best 16-0, Wisconsin (16-2, 3-2 Big Ten) has dropped its last two and have fallen into a three-way tie for fourth place with Minnesota and Purdue, the two teams UW will play on the road in the next week.
"You have to keep moving forward," said junior Josh Gasser, who led Wisconsin with 16 points before fouling out. "We're in the Big Ten. It's the toughest conference for a reason, and you have to play really well to win games in this league … It's definitely a little different tastes in our mouths now."
The usually stout Wisconsin defense continues to leak. After surviving 41 offensive rebounds and 41 second-chance points in home wins against Iowa and Illinois, Wisconsin allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent in Tuesday's 75-72 loss in Bloomington before watching Michigan (13-4, 5-0 Big Ten) – the conference's best field goal percentage offense at 48.4 percent – shoot 54.7 percent (a season-high against a UW opponent).
"You don't want to lose two in a row, especially on your home court," said Sam Dekker, who finished with 10 points on 5 of 13 and had 10 rebounds. "It's disappointing. We're a little bit embarrassed there when they took it to us in the first half and the beginning of the second half. We didn't respond well to what they did."
Michigan also shot 53.8 percent (7-for-13) from 3-point range, with the crushing shot coming off of Stauskas' hot hand. Wisconsin had chipped a 15-point lead down to one with 1:54 to go, setting the stage for what many thought would be another UW miracle win.
UW already had the banked 3-pointer by Gaser at the buzzer two years ago to steal out a 53-52 win at Ann Arbor, and had the memorable Brust half-court heave to force overtime 11 months ago.
Stauskas didn't allow that to happen. After misfiring from the right wing, Gasser was called for a foul underneath with 1:14 left and Michigan retained possession. That allowed Stauskus another shot, which he buried thanks to a mismatch to give Michigan a 71-67 lead with 48.2 seconds.
"I was just trying to be aggressive and get to the rim," said Stauskus. "I saw he overplayed me a little bit so I pulled back. I went behind the back and he slid forward. I was open for three. I just tried to be aggressive and shoot it."
Hayes was assigned to Stauskus, a matchup that Gasser said wasn't a mismatch because of Hayes' guarding ability, but one that the Michigan sophomore took advantage once Hayes drifted too far away.
"There are players who have that in their repertoire; he has that," said UW coach Bo Ryan of Stauskas. "We didn't want to foul him with the way he shoots. What we wanted was a tough three, but that separation shot a lot of guys have now … He's quick. He's like a cat."
Stauskas added four foul shots in the final 24.7 seconds to seal Michigan's seventh straight win, and allow him to finish with 16 in the second half.
"This game wasn't going to be over until that buzzer went off and we had the win," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "That was a great shot by Nik, but that's a lot of time left still for them to win the game."
Wisconsin was able to get back in the game by scoring 16 points in an 11-possession stretch, but the Badgers couldn't fully dig themselves out of a hole in starting digging from itself almost from the start.
Leading by as many as 10 points, Michigan shot 60.7 percent (10-for-28) from the field and exploited some of the same post problems that had been plaguing UW for the past two weeks.
Attacking the post for layups and getting defenders off balanced to create uncontested dunks, Michigan started 12-for-15 overall, including making its first four 3-pointers based off penetration.
"Sometimes when you're trying to fix something, guys aren't quite sure and you just have to keep working through it," Ryan said.
And so it's back to the drawing board, as Wisconsin faces the tough challenge of getting its momentum back in two tough road venues. Such is life in the Big Ten.
"It's a long season, so two losses isn't going to kill us," said Gasser. "At the same time, we've got to get better. That's our priority now."