The two games between the Badgers (19-10 overall, 9-7 Big Ten) and the Hawkeyes (22-8, 11-5 Big Ten) this year proved to be shockingly similar. When these teams met earlier this season in Madison, Wisconsin limited the Hawkeyes to only 17 percent shooting on 5 of 30 from the floor in the second half. During that second half, Wisconsin outscored the Hawkeyes 34-18 and held them without a field goal on 19 straight attempts during one stretch.
This time around, it was the Badgers who developed the cold shooting touch in the second half. Wisconsin shot a dismal 20 percent after halftime, making only 6 of 30 shots. Iowa was able to successfully shut down Wisconsin's perimeter shooting and the Badgers' usual dominance in the paint, which caused Wisconsin to begin forcing up difficult shots that couldn't seem to find anything on the backboard. While Wisconsin looked to make any kind of basket, the Hawkeyes used the Badgers' scoring drought to their advantage, opening up an 18-point lead from which Wisconsin would never recover.
"[In January] Iowa shot 17 percent against us in the second half and we go there and we kill them, we shoot 20 percent in the second half [today]," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "How do you explain two teams like ours not being able to buy a bucket? We shoot 43 percent in the first half and we're down a little bit, and then go through a stretch like that."
"We let them get a little too much separation," Ryan said. "Alando, Kam and those guys know that we didn't do some things… It's all about separation. They knock their shots down, especially during that one stretch. You can't give good shooters on their home floor that much space."
Things looked promising to begin with for Wisconsin, as the Badgers were able to keep pace with Iowa despite having little contribution from leading scorer Alando Tucker. Thanks in large part to Kammron Taylor, the Badgers jumped out to a quick nine-point lead with Taylor scoring eight points in the first nine minutes and 57 seconds. Iowa, meanwhile, did not score until 3:51 into the first half, on a breakaway drunk from senior Jeff Horner.
Wisconsin couldn't pull away from the Hawkeyes in the first half, due in large part to the ineffectiveness of Tucker and the Badgers' plethora of turnovers. Tucker, who was constantly double teamed in the first 20 minutes, finished the first half with only four points, with his first basket coming at the 2:45 mark. Wisconsin also turned the ball over 10 times in the first half, which led to 11 Iowa points. Despite all these things working against Wisconsin, the Badgers only trailed by two at halftime.
"I forced a lot of shots [in the first half]," Tucker said. "I was trying to do a lot on my own. I was trying to do too much, I believe, and I struggled."
"[Adam Haluska] did a good job making Tucker work offensively [and defensively]," Iowa head coach Steve Alford said. "That was a goal going into the game and I think it really slowed Tucker's performance. He's so hard to guard [but] because of what we did to him [defensively], I think it tired him."
It was that second-half shooting slump that led to Wisconsin's unraveling. Not only did Wisconsin struggle to find the bottom of the net, the Badgers allowed too much separation on defense, particularly against guards Haluska and Horner. After being limited to only four points in the first half, Haluska seemed like he couldn't miss at the beginning of the second half, scored 10 points in the first 6:50 and finishing with 16 points for the game. Horner, who scored eight in the first half, finished with a game-high 22 points as he consistently drove against a Badger defense that seemed to be playing on their heels.
"Adam is just trying to learn everything with his second year [starting]," Alford said. "He is not consistent yet, but, at least today, he can look at this film and say this is where you cut [to the basket]. [Horner] and the five seniors have had four winning seasons together and four postseason appearances together. They never were down in practice and their legacy will live on here. We're really going to miss them."
Today's game marked the end of a brutal stretch for the Badgers, playing their final two conference games on the road in two of the toughest arenas in the Big Ten. Wisconsin now sets its sites on making a strong Big Ten Tournament run to improve its résumé for NCAA Tournament seeding.
"We just have to go home, lick our wounds, relax, get ahead in the classroom and get out there and battle on Friday," Ryan said.