Wednesday evening's 72-69 come-from-behind win over the Iowa (3-6 Big Ten, 15-7 overall), was only slightly less dramatic than the Badgers' home win against Michigan State Jan. 16, when UW scored the last 11 points of the game for a shocking 62-59 victory.
Wednesday, though, Wisconsin overcame a gritty performance from the Hawkeyes, who led for most of the game, were up by as many as 13 points in the second half and held a 54-43 edge with 10:12 left to play.
The Badgers, though, rattled off a 13-0 run to take the lead and held on down the stretch for the 72-69 win. Wisconsin (7-3, 16-5) did it with hard-nosed defense, clutch free throw shooting and impressive performances from guard Kammron Taylor and forward Mike Wilkinson, who combined for 46 points.
Wisconsin's strong play late in the game allowed it survive an absolute dogfight with Iowa. The Hawkeyes gutsy performance was highlighted by the contributions of their big three: forward Greg Brunner (27 points in 37 minutes) and guards Jeff Horner (19 in 40) and Adam Haluska (16 in 35).
"You talk about two scrappy [teams]," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I think possession for possession and the way we matched up that was as hard a contested game as we've played."
Coming four days after a 60-50 loss at Minnesota, Wednesday's win kept UW from losing back-to-back games for the first time in almost a year. The Badgers also remained just a half game behind second-place Michigan State (7-2, 16-4) in the Big Ten standings, with a daunting challenge at No. 1 Illinois (10-0, 24-0) looming Saturday.
"Spurts, just runs, isn't it amazing in this game?" Ryan said of the Badgers' comeback. "That's why you can never get too low and you can never get too high."
Taylor came off the bench for UW and scored 18 of his career-high 26 points in the second half, including 13 of the Badgers' last 21. His 3 with 5:42 left top play tied the game at 54-54 and his 3 at 4:08 gave UW a 59-56 edge. With the Hawkeyes clawing for a comeback of their own, Taylor hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:28.
"Taylor really gave them a shot off the bench," Iowa coach Steve Alford said.
Wilkinson scored 10 of his 20 points at the foul line, as Wisconsin converted 27 of 35 free throws. He also finished with four blocks, including two key rejections of Horner in the final 1:37.
Wilkinson's interior presence set the tone for the Badgers' second-half rally. He picked up an assist on Taylor's first of three second-half 3-pointers, then scored seven of UW's next 10 points in its 13-0 run.
"The key was in the second half when Mike, on a couple dribble attacks, a couple things that he did said, ‘Get on my back. We're going to ride this thing,'" Ryan said. "By him making sure that there was attention being paid to the post, that allowed some of the perimeter stuff to take place."
"I think this [win] is pretty significant because there were no pity parties," Ryan said. "Nobody had the hats and the balloons in the locker room. There weren't any candles on any cakes. Other guys have to play and pick up and let's go. I didn't see any give in our guys."
Brunner scored 11 of Iowa's first 14 points to open the game, helping the Hawkeyes build a nine-point edge (19-10) in the first half. Wisconsin, though, methodically chipped away at Iowa's first-half advantage and tied the game at 34-34 on a pair of Wilkinson free throws with no time left on the clock.
Horner took command early in the second half, scoring 11 of the Hawkeyes' first 18 points in that session. He hit his fifth 3 of the game, and third of the half, with 12:44 left to play, giving Iowa a 52-39 lead, its largest of the game.
Wisconsin forward Alando Tucker then hit 1 of 2 free throws and guard Sharif Chambliss made a triple of his own to draw the Badgers within 52-43, but Clayton Hanson had a pass intercepted near the top of the key and he fouled Haluska on a layup at the other end.
Haluska made the layup but his free throw went awry, kicking off a 5-minute 44-second scoreless stretch for the Hawkeyes, who also suffered through a 3-minute, 27-second scoring drought in the first half.
"We've got to stay away from those lulls," Alford said.
When Wilkinson made a running half hook in the lane over Iowa center Erek Hansen the Badgers had a 56-54 advantage, their first lead since an 8-7 edge with 14:33 left in the first half.
A pair of Wilkinson free throws gave the Badgers a 61-56 edge with 3:27 left, but Brunner converted a 3-point play and Haluska made a layup to tie it less than a minute later.
Tucker then double-clutched in the lane, drew a foul and got his 4-foot jumper to fall. He made the free throw to complete the 3-point play and give Wisconsin the lead for good at 64-61 with 2:19 left.
Iowa pulled within three points three times in the final 27 seconds, but Taylor's sharp free throw shooting secured the win for the Badgers.