Winning its sixth game against an Associated Press top 25 team, the most in the nation, No.21 Wisconsin led wire-to-wire in a 75-62 victory over No.15 Michigan at Crisler Center Sunday afternoon.
Junior Frank Kaminsky registered his first career double-double in the opening minutes of the first half and finished with 25 points, 17 coming in the second half and 10 in the final six minutes after Wisconsin (21-5, 8-5 Big Ten) saw its 16 point lead cut to three.
Sam Dekker gutted through a sprained hand to score 15 points and Josh Gasser added 13 points, including going 3-for-4 from the field. Through their difficult February stretch, the Badgers have won four straight – the longest winning streak in the conference – and find themselves two games back of the Wolverines (18-7, 10-3 Big Ten) and Michigan State, who suffered a 60-51 home upset to Nebraska Sunday.
Averaging 81.5 points per game at home, Michigan was held to a season-low 62 points at home on 40 percent shooting. It was just the Wolverines' fourth home loss in the last three seasons.
"It was probably our best game of the year in terms of what we did against a real good opponent on their court," said assistant close Gary Close. "I thought we played very unselfishly and played Wisconsin basketball right from the start. I thought we were sharp right from the beginning."
The Wolverines cut an 18-point deficit to three in the second half, but Kaminsky went on a 7-2 run after that, helping Wisconsin regain control for good. UW built the lead back up to 15 by making its last 11 free throws and committing a season-low two turnovers.
"That was impressive as anything," said Close. "They made a great run. The place is going crazy and we just kind of regroup, and did the things we had done leading up to that. I thought that was a classic Wisconsin game."
The Wolverines got 25 points from Cavis LeVert, who almost signal handedly brought Michigan back in the second half, but the Badgers frustrated Nik Stauskas, who managed only 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Stauskas torched the Badgers in Madison with a game-high 23 points, including scoring the last 11 points.
"We made them earn most of their points," said Close. "LeVert got loose a couple times, but he made some tough shots as well. That's what great players do and that's why you have to try to force him to do. We did a good job on Stauskas. We didn't let him go crazy.
In much the same way Wisconsin established its dominance against Minnesota Thursday, the Badgers' 14-4 run over the first five-plus minutes was set up by touches in the post. Wisconsin started 6-for-7 from the field, including making six straight attempts after its opening-possession miss, and finished the first half outscoring Michigan 16-4 in the paint, going 8-for-19 on such shot attempts. UW finished with 32 points in the paint compared to 14 for Michigan.
And while he was scoreless in the first half, twice Traevon Jackson drove into the lane to draw defenders, allowing him to kick to a wide-open Gasser for open 3-pointers.
Jackson finished 1-for-6 from the floor, but went 7-for-8 from the line, has six assists, no turnovers and effectively ran the offense.
"That's real good point guard play," said Close.
Even through the Badgers went four for their next 15, the Badgers still lead 34-19 at halftime by their defense, forcing seven turnovers in the first half, holding Michigan to one field goal in the final 5:50 and shutting out one of the best transition teams in the country, all of which contributed to the Michigan's lowest point total in a first half since January 2011. But Wisconsin was prepared for a Michigan run, which came in the second half. Cutting the lead to nine five separate times in the second half before finally breaking through on a 9-0 run, cutting the lead to three with 6:16 left.
That's when Kaminsky made three jumpers in the paint, the last of which resulted in a 3-point play, and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key as the shot clock expired. That pushed Wisconsin's lead to 13 and sent most of the Michigan faithful to the exits.
"That's experience," said Close. "That's knowing what you have to do to win on the road. That's why it was such a gratifying win with them making a run. They may win the Big Ten championship, and yet you beat them on their court pretty soundly."