No.9 Wisconsin might have left its perfect record, number three national ranking and some dignity 17 days ago in its first loss of the season 100 miles further south, but the Badgers left the state a second time having regained some defensive swagger following a 72-58 victory over Purdue Saturday in front of 14,845 at Mackey Arena.
For the relieved members of the team who addressed the media, the drought between wins felt much, much longer.
"Especially when you lose at Wisconsin, it's not a good feeling because we hold ourselves to a high standard," said junior guard Traevon Jackson, who scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half. "Respectfully that's what we're supposed to do."
Five players scored in double figures, led by Frank Kaminsky's game-high 16 points, to lead the Badgers (17-3, 4-3) to just their third win at Mackey since 1972, but the victory was obtained more by what happened on the defensive end compared to the offense.
Beaten to a pulp over the last three games by teams willing to drive to the bucket with little to no resistance, Wisconsin held Purdue (13-7, 3-4) to 35.4 percent from the field and no players over 11 points.
More importantly, the Badgers' five-game streak of allowing opponents to score 70-or-more points – the longest such streak in two decades – finally ended.
"These guys are resilient," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "That's one thing this program always prides itself on. The fashion in which we lost those games is not characteristic of what this program has been about, and we had to get back to some things defensively."
The Boilermakers certainly gave the Badgers assistance, taking more than their fair share of perimeter shots early in the shot clock instead of pounding the ball into the paint. Had the Boilermakers done that, they could have scored much more than their 40 points in the paint, which ran UW's total to 232 points in the last five games.
"I don't think guys were ready to play," said Purdue senior Terone Johnson, one of two Boilers who scored 10. "For a game like this, you've got to be ready to play."
Wisconsin took advantage, reeling off a 17-4 run near the start that set the tone. Purdue never led after the opening 90 seconds and was only able to tie the game twice more, none coming in the second half.
Three days after UW's loss at Minnesota was filled with finger pointing and a lack of cohesiveness, Wisconsin contested shots, fought for loose balls, squeezed the court and communicated effectively, all points of emphasis junior Josh Gasser delivered to the other four starters in a huddle at center court prior to tipoff.
"We talked all morning, all yesterday, about what we were going to have to do," said Sam Dekker (15 points, 8-for-11 on free throws). "We have to go out and compete, get back to what we were doing the first 16 games. Teams had been outworking us the past three. He was telling us be ready, every possession we've got to bring it. We can't be outworked today."
That willingness to compete showed up in the post. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan – who was severely under the weather after catching the flu bug - was forced to patchwork his post defense for the second straight game after Kaminsky picked up his second foul with 14:24 remaining in the first half.
But after Ryan sat Kaminsky down for the final 17:28 in Wednesday's first half, the 13th-year head coach rolled the dice with an offense-defense rotation between Kaminsky and Evan Anderson in the final six-plus minutes.
Purdue coach Matt Painter wasn't as fortunate with his gamble with center A.J. Hammons. After picking up two quick fouls, Hammons was reinserted into the lineup and quickly picked up his third foul at 9:52.
Kaminsky, along with others, became aggressive attacking the rim, helping Wisconsin draw fouls and go 27-for-33 (81.8 percent) from the free throw line. Hammons – four days after registering a double-double against Northwestern – scored two points, had two rebounds and three turnovers in 12 minutes.
"It's something we talked that we needed to do, trying to get him a couple fouls early, and we did," said Kaminsky. ‘We kind of took him out of his rhythm a little bit. Having him in the paint is good for him and it's an advantage for us when he's not there. We were able to get some things to rim and really get everything going."
Purdue continued a string of holding opponent under 45 percent in a home game this season, but the Badgers hit the big shots in the second half. Going 10-for-20 in the second half, Wisconsin was able to go on a 10-2 run after Purdue cut the lead to 42-39, and extend it over the final six minutes when Jackson scored nine straight UW points to build the lead to 15 with 3:19 remaining.
"When you get on the road, the key is you have to be able to hit shots," said Gard. "We hit some shots early … You have to be able to control possessions on the road and I thought we did a very good job, as good of a job as we've done in a long time of doing that."
With four of their next five at home, the schedule affords Wisconsin to make a move back up the conference standings. But if finally winning again brought relief for the fans and others, it hasn't yet for the players shooting for bigger goals.
"We still have a lot of basketball left in the Big Ten," said Kaminsky. "This is something that will get the ball rolling back in the right direction, but there's no relief because we're still not satisfied with those three losses. We still have a lot to learn."