MILWAUKEE—For a team confident in the familiar surroundings of the Bradley Center, the Badgers looked nothing like themselves down the stretch of Sunday's game against Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Being outworked on the boards and committing uncharacteristic turnovers in the clutch, Wisconsin surrendered a four-point lead in the game's final six minutes and fell to the Panthers 59-55.
"We didn't finish out the game like we wanted to," UW guard Devin Harris said. "Three or four turnovers (down the stretch) killed us. That's how they got ahead and stayed on top. Turnovers killed our momentum."
Harris finished with a game-high 21 points, but committed six turnovers to only four assists. Pittsburgh guards Julius Page and Jaron Brown switched up their coverage on Harris, with Brown taking on the lion's share down the stretch. Harris failed to score a single point over the game's final 12 minutes.
"I knew he is a good player and I said all day that I wanted to make him make tough shots and force some things," Brown said.
"I don't know if they did anything different (defensively in the second half)," Harris said. "We just missed shots; shots that we were hitting in the first half weren't falling in the second half."
The Badgers took a 48-44 advantage on a 3-pointer from junior guard Clayton Hanson at the 5:46 mark. On its next possession, Pittsburgh freshman forward Chris Taft scored two points on a dunk after rebounding Page's missed jumper. Page then stole the ball from Harris in the open court and raced down for an emphatic breakaway slam, tying the game at 48-48.
Harris was called for traveling on Wisconsin's ensuing possession, and Pittsburgh sophomore guard Carl Krauser took a quick pass from Taft straight to the rim for a tough lay-up in which he was fouled by sophomore forward Ray Nixon. Krauser, who was playing with three fouls, converted his free throw to give Pitt a 51-48 lead.
A former amateur boxer, Krauser took a fighter's mentality into Sunday's contest in front of a decidedly Wisconsin crowd and led his Panthers with 16 points.
"We just came out and we knew we had to stick together to get this win," Krauser said. "We just needed to trust each other and rely on the fact that we are all we got."
"We thought we would get this one in Milwaukee," Wisconsin sophomore guard Boo Wade said. "They were just more aggressive in their defense and rebounding."
Wade connected on two free throws to bring Wisconsin within one, but Krauser took the ball to the hoop a second time and drew a foul from Badger forward Mike Wilkinson, sending the guard to the line.
"We needed that basket and I definitely didn't have a fear of picking up a foul," Krauser said. "I was just trying to get to the basket and score. If you are worrying about your next foul, you are not going to get the job done."
Krauser connected on the second of his two free throws, giving the Panthers a 52-50 lead. Wilkinson tied the game with two free throws after drawing a fourth foul from Taft, but Krauser scored an easy lay-up to put the Panthers up for good.
"We have been behind before," Julius Page said of his team's ability to come back. "We weren't going to break down just because we were behind. We knew there was a lot of time left."
Harris failed to find his mark down the stretch, and the Pittsburgh interior proved too tough for the Badger big men to grab rebounds when they were needed. The Panthers dominated the post, outworking the Badgers on the boards for 40 rebounds compared to Wisconsin's 31. Pittsburgh also outscored UW 32-12 in the paint and generated 14 second chance points on 15 offensive rebounds.
"I give them credit," Wilkinson said. "They play physical and get into you, that makes it tough. They're one of the best we've played all year."
Never separated by more than seven points, Sunday's game was ultimately decided by the Badgers failure to execute in the game's final minutes. Harris missed two open 3-pointers inside of three minutes, while the Panthers were able to convert their free throws.
"They just got the most out of their possessions in the last three minutes," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "They did a better job than we did, and that's why we're going home."
Panthers stronger down the stretch
Morley's good work goes unrewarded
Badgers lose battle of the boards
Photo gallery 1 - Matthew Kutz
Photo gallery 2 - Getty Images
Photo gallery 3 - Associated Press
Pittsburgh 59, Wisconsin 55 - line score