Not this time. The Badgers' six-game winning streak over MSU ended here Thursday night, as the Spartans led wire-to-wire in a convincing 77-64 win.
"I don't think I could be happier for our players," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "I really felt like it's just been hard on them and it wasn't like we conquered the world but we beat a very good team and I thought we beat them soundly."
The game was sweet vindication for MSU's five seniors, who exercised four years of near misses and past demons against UW, and also ended a 12-game losing streak against top 25 teams. For the Spartans (20-4 overall, 11-2 Big Ten), the win clinched at least a share of second place in the Big Ten.
"We won this game for the seniors and [Izzo] first… this was their night," MSU junior center Paul Davis said.
"We knew what was at stake," MSU sophomore guard Shannon Brown said. "We knew the past. We knew that… Coach was 0-6 against Bo Ryan… We hadn't beat a ranked opponent. We knew we just had to come out and play hard."
The loss was a serious blow to Wisconsin (17-7, 8-5), which dropped into a third-place tie with Indiana, just a half-game ahead of Minnesota, and fell three games behind MSU with three games remaining for each team.
Anderson carved up UW from start to finish with a flawless shooting performance: he made 10 of 10 field goals, 1 of 1 3-pointers and 7 of 7 free throws for a career-high 28 points.
"That's not a bad percentage," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "You name it, he did it. We were impressed. Unfortunately, it was not what we needed to see."
"I just feel good," Anderson said. "Can't put it into words. Just felt good. Didn't force anything. Just let everything happen, you know, come to me."
While Anderson, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, was blitzing UW with spot-up jumpers and drives to the basket, his backcourt teammates were busy befuddling the Badgers at each end of floor, outscoring UW's backcourt 12-0 in the first half and 34-17 for the game.
"It wasn't like we kept going to one guy," Anderson said. "We kept moving the ball around, found an open man and guys knocking down shots. We just got it done together."
Davis and the rest of MSU's frontcourt, however, punished the Badgers on the glass, particularly in the first half when MSU quickly jumped out to a double-digit lead, and during a key stretch early in the second half when the Spartans built a 41-27 edge.
The Spartans went after UW from the opening tip, keeping the Badgers from sustaining a rhythm offensively or defensively.
UW had no answers for MSU's early-game energy. The Spartans connected on four of their first five shot attempts, on their way to a blistering 56 percent shooting performance. Wisconsin, meanwhile, missed its first four shots and hit 42 percent in the game.
"We wanted to come out, jump on them, keep them on their heels," Brown said. "Get after them defensively and that's what we did. When we did that we got the big lead. We never let go."
Though other Spartans lent a hand, Anderson was MSU's unquestioned star Thursday. Tucker and UW senior forward Zach Morley tried their hand at slowing Anderson down, but were far from successful. Anderson had his way with the Badgers, getting to spots seemingly at will and making every shot he took.
"There's a lot of things that we needed to do better, especially on taking away Anderson's effectiveness," Ryan said.
Anderson scored all 11 points in an 11-2 run that gave the Spartans a 15-4 lead six minutes, seven seconds into the game.
"They always say you got to play big in big games if you are going to be a great player," Izzo said. "You can't play much bigger than he did."
The Spartans later opened a 20-6 lead, their largest margin of the first half, on freshman guard Drew Neitzel's 3-pointer at the 10:38 mark.
With Wilkinson (11 first-half points), Tucker (8) and Zach Morley (6) providing all of the Badgers' first-half offense, UW chipped away at MSU's lead and closed to within 33-25 at halftime.
The Spartans, though, opened the second half with a crushing 8-2 run. Brown, who scored 10 of his 11 points in the second half, knocked down a jumper, then Anderson took advantage of two MSU offensive rebounds and deposited a putback.
"That's one thing that we don't like to say happens at Wisconsin but they came out and they out-worked us tonight," Tucker said. "They were after lose balls. I never like to say we got out-worked but tonight Michigan State out-worked us."
A Tucker dunk provided a brief salve for UW but Neitzel made the first of two free throws at the other end. Neitzel missed his next attempt, but Davis pulled down the rebound, drew a foul and converted the layup and ensuing free throw to cap a four-point play and give MSU a 41-27 edge.
The Badgers were in a similar position when they faced MSU Jan. 16 in Madison. The Spartans led for most of that game, but UW closed on an 11-0 run to erase an 8-point deficit with two minutes left to play.
This time, however, Wisconsin, drew no closer than within eight points and never truly challenged.
"This is one time the start did matter," Izzo said. "[We] finished it. That's really all I cared about was how we finished."
There were brief moments when the Badgers appeared primed for a rally. MSU lost is offensive composure for a three-minute stretch late in the second half, missing three free throws and turning it over twice.
UW closed to within 68-58 with 2:22 left to play on a pair of Tucker free throws, but the Spartans made their next six free throws, Anderson's pair with 58 seconds left making it 74-64 MSU.
"We might have [made] a couple bumps at them to get it to single digits but we just couldn't get it down to five, down to four and that's what we needed to do to have a chance in here," Ryan said.