UW comes up empty

Iowa dominates second half, drills visiting Badgers 59-44

IOWA CITY, Iowa—At this point neutral court probably sounds like heaven to the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.

With 9:13 remaining in the game and already leading by 15, Iowa's Doug Thomas came over the top to hammer home a putback dunk above the head of three Badgers seemingly powerless to stop him.

The sold out crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena erupted as Wisconsin then brought the ball down the court only to airmail a 3-pointer and miss two free throws following the rebound. There were few gasps for air after that.

No. 24 Iowa (22-8 overall, 11-5 Big Ten) downed the Badgers (19-10, 9-7) by way of a barrage of picks and curls as well as a refusal to allow Wisconsin any room to breathe in the paint.

The Badgers were already on the fence before that dunk all but sealed their fate. Iowa had scored on seven of its previous nine possessions and a five-point lead had quickly expanded to 15. Wisconsin looked deflated and could do little more than match jumpers with the Hawkeyes the rest of the way.

"It was more mentally, we ran out," UW forward Alando Tucker said, regarding the weary team's second road loss in less than 48 hours. "They got on a run. It seemed like things weren't going our way at all. We weren't taking control of what we had to do."

In particular, the Badgers were forcing shots and hitting few of them during a second half in which they went a paltry 6-for-30 (20 percent) from the field. The 44-point output was the lowest of the season for Wisconsin and the 29 percent shooting mark on the evening was its worst in a Big Ten contest all season.

On the other end, Hawkeye guards Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner ran the Badgers in circles and buried jumper after jumper off screens. In the final home game of his career, Horner finished with a game-high 22 points on 9 of 17 shooting.

"On the chases what happened was we let them get too much separation," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "One step can turn into two steps. Two can turn into four. They were opportunistic in getting those looks."

Those struggles on both ends ultimately led to roughly 20 minutes — near the halfway marks of each half — wherein the Hawkeyes outscored Wisconsin 40-14. UW had jumped out to an early 16-7 lead in the first half before 10 turnovers by the break had them trailing by two heading into the locker room.

But it took Wisconsin over six minutes to hit a field goal in the second frame. No one really got going until Ray Nixon reeled off three 3-pointers in the closing minutes. By then it was too little to overcome a fired up Iowa team on Senior Day.

With the victory Iowa finished a perfect 17-0 at home on the season, its first flawless campaign in the history of Carver-Hawkeye and the school's first since 1965-66.

"This is a tough environment to come play in," said guard Kammron Taylor, who led UW with 11 points. "They were fired up and we just didn't do a good job of matching that intensity for 40 minutes."

Even before Iowa got the home crowd roaring with their hot shooting in the second half, the Hawkeyes were all over the floor in appearing the aggressor for much of the game. In the first half alone they collected 10 offensive rebounds. They also stole the ball a total of 12 times in the game.

On the defensive end, Iowa's bigs controlled the paint in forcing the Badgers either to the outside or into awkward positioning on a number of occasions. Wisconsin scored just 14 points in the paint, and though they lead the Big Ten in free throw attempts, the Badgers shot just nine of them Saturday, and none in the first half.

"They just jammed it up," said Tucker, who was held to just 10 points, half his average. "They were daring our big guys to shoot the ball. On our cuts they were jamming it up. It got a little tougher to get the post passes in."

Everything got a little tougher for the Badgers as the game progressed. Taylor said they got away from their game plan for the second time in three days. Now they will get some time to regroup before heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis.

Thanks to Illinois winning at Michigan State and Indiana winning at Michigan, Wisconsin will inherit the No. 4 seed and "host" the fifth-seeded Hoosiers in a quarterfinal at 1:30 p.m. Central on Friday, rather than play in a first-round game Thursday. Indiana will likely have a significant home-court edge in Indianapolis, but the extra rest should serve the Badgers well.

"I like to protect my players, but I don't like to make excuses," Ryan said. "I think that anybody who has seen our guys know that [two games in three days] was way too quick of a turnaround. I just wish they could have had some more time, but they didn't. We got to get some rest and regroup. We are going to play again and hopefully again, again and again. We just have to go home, lick our wounds, relax, get ahead in the classroom and then get out there and battle on Friday."

Tucker thinks that playing two games on the road in three days will only make Wisconsin tougher and stronger. If the Badgers are to play what he called "normal Wisconsin basketball" and realize title hopes, they will need to find their game for 40 minutes a night, "again, again and again."

At the least they will not have to play at Carver-Hawkeye, or at the Breslin Center, or even at Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston. After all, half the battle in this Big Ten season was hosting the game.

Now, about playing the Hoosiers in Indianapolis…

Matt Lewis, a frequent contributor to Badger Nation, is the editor of creative sportswriting site TheHeptagon.com.

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