ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Josh Gasser knew there was a miscommunication and his expectations of the worse came to fruition.
Sixth-ranked Wisconsin had a sense of déjà vu. Thirteen days earlier Wisconsin blew a double-digit halftime lead in a loss at Rutgers. Saturday Wisconsin had an 11-point lead in the second half and a 54-50 lead with 32 seconds left, yet made mistakes down the stretch that forced them to play five more minutes.
Unlike its loss at Rutgers, however, Wisconsin had its full complement of players and more than enough confidence to finish a game on the road.
“It is definitely a little disappointing; I mean you have a chance to win the game and just like that you have to play another five minutes, but at the same time we were really confident going into the overtime period,” said Gasser, one of the five players with at least nine points in the Badgers’ 69-64 win over the Wolverines.
“We knew it was a five minute game basically, and we happened to make enough players to just come out with it in overtime.”
It helps when the Badgers have more than enough weapons at their disposal. As the extra period started, the Badgers (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) jumped on the Wolverines (12-8, 5-3) quickly with a converted 3-point play by senior center Frank Kaminsky, who led all scorers with 22 points in the game. After a tough defensive stop, Gasser splashed a 3-pointer on the other end to give Wisconsin a six-point advantage at the 4:01 mark in overtime and never looked back.
“You never want to drop one on the road, especially when your confidence is high,” said Kaminsky, who scored eight of his points in overtime. “It is not something you want to do, and we were able to steal one on Michigan’s court.
“We had that confidence going into overtime. It was big to start fast and we really wanted to take it to them. We wanted to get something going because if we score, go up, then they are trying to fight to come back into it. We were able to get that, then get a stop and hit a three. It kind of broke the game open for us.”
It’s the kind of performance Wisconsin certainly will keep in its hip pocket. Entering the weekend, four of the Badgers’ five conference wins were by at least 15 points, including last week’s 82-50 dismantling at home over Iowa.
Winning by an average margin of 19.2 points per game, the Badgers hadn’t won a game by six points or less since beating Georgetown by three in the Bahamas back in November. A year ago the Badgers played in 12 games decided by six points or less. UW won nine of them, including a 64-63 overtime decision over Arizona that sent the Badgers to their first Final Four in 14 years.
Returning virtually every piece from that squad, this year’s group has those same aspirations. And after spending the first two-plus months of the season usually steamrolling teams, the Badgers’ experience roster finally was in a nail biter.
Even though it was mostly due to their own mistakes, it was a game championship teams usually win and a game that gave Wisconsin veteran corps even more confidence nearing the midway point of the conference season.
“I am not trading them, but again that’s why we’ve worked with them,” said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. “From the time they have come into the program to this point and try to get them to this point, that (confidence) is what they have been working on and that is what we are trying to teach them, so they had a chance to use of that.”