Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me.
Unlike the first round, Wisconsin paid for its beleaguered first 20 minutes, unable to survive another average performance and bowed out of the second round of the NCAA Tournament in a humbling 74-68 defeat.
It was evident early on that Wisconsin (30-6) didn't learn from its mistakes, allowing UNLV (30-6) to jump out to an 11-4 advantage in route to a 39-27 halftime lead. While the Rebels shot lights out - 46.7 percent - in the first half, the Badgers were once again hindered by their lack of offense and rebounding. The Badgers managed only one offensive rebound and shot only 2-for-10 from distance, while UNLV made six threes and grabbed five offensive boards.
Additionally for the second straight game, Kammron Taylor was not a factor in the first half, shooting 1-for-5 and committing three turnovers running the point position.
Right on cue, however, the Badgers mounted their comeback.
Using an 8-2 run to open the half and a 16-2 run minutes later, Wisconsin found its shooting touch - shooting 10-for-19 from the floor to begin the half - to take its first lead since the opening bucket.
Kammron Taylor, who had become unstoppable in the second half as of late, turned on the jets once again. Taylor scored four-straight points which came before a three-point bucket by Tucker and a driving lay-up by Jason Bohannon to pull the Badgers to even.
Wisconsin wouldn't stop there, as two more free throws from Taylor and a three-point play by Greg Stiemsma gave the Badgers their biggest lead of the game at five.
"Their guards hit a couple threes early, but we've been able to bounce back," Tucker said. "You always feel you have a chance to regain control. The game is never out of reach until the last horn goes off."
Just like the Missouri State game in November, however, Wisconsin couldn't maintain its lead after coming back from a huge deficit and couldn't stop the coach's son, Kevin Kruger, who finally found his shooting touch.
After going 0-for-8 in the first round and 1-for-5 in the first half against UW, Kruger nailed three big three-point buckets, igniting an 11-1 run that stunned the Badgers.
After a make by senior Wendell White, Kruger nailed his first three from the wing to tie score. That was just the beginning for Kruger, as he nailed back-to back threes on two straight Rebel possessions to help UNLV retake control of the game.
"[The shots] felt good last game and the beginning of this game," Kevin Kruger said. "I just had a little faith and I always feel I am going to knock down my next one. With the way I have been shooting lately, I felt they were coming."
"We had some momentum and we let it get away from us," head coach Bo Ryan added. "They hit some tough shots and Kevin hits his first wide-open shot in the second half. Kevin was the difference maker in that stretch … and was the nail in the coffin."
Once UNLV got the lead, the Rebel defense never let up, as they honed in on Tucker, who had proven of late to be the Badgers only consistent scoring option. With the Badgers trailing by seven and only four minutes left, the Rebels, like a Vegas magic act, made Tucker disappear, consistently running two or three fresh players at the All-American every time he touched the ball.
"Tucker is a very good player and we were giving him extra attention all game long," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said. "We tried to keep someone fresh on Tucker because he's such a good player. We just tried to rotate two or three fresh guys to him."
The plan worked, as Tucker could only attempt two shots in the final 5:57 minutes and didn't score any of his 17 points in crunch time. Without Tucker's offense, the Badgers scored only one point in four possessions, which made it easier for the Rebels to extend their lead.
"It was tough all game," Tucker said. "They were hard-nosed on the ball."
While Tucker was stymied, Taylor managed to keep the Badgers close, scoring 11 of his game-high 24 in the final three minutes. Even though Taylor was scoring, the Badgers couldn't get closer than three the rest of the way, as the Rebels knocked down a clutch shot every time down the floor that effectively ended Wisconsin's season.
"I thought we had some really good defensive stands and hit down some shots that gave us that margin down the stretch," Lon Kruger said.
Scoring 41 of his 48 tournament points after halftime, Taylor had no answer to his cold shooting in the first NCAA games in Chicago.
"If I knew, I would tell you," Taylor said. "Things just started to fall, but it was too late today. Even though we set a couple school records, we wanted to make a deep run in the tournament. It stings."
Although the loss comes sooner than those associated with the program thought it would, the two figureheads of the program – Alando Tucker and Bo Ryan – end the season pleased with what they accomplished. Tucker finishes his career with his school record of 2,217 points – putting him in ninth in career Big Ten scoring.
"I wouldn't change anything," Tucker said. "To do some of the things we've done, it's special. It just feels bad that we can't come back, but we did play a tough game and I am proud of the things we've done for Wisconsin."
Ryan ends his 23rd season with 525 career victories after having led Wisconsin to 30 victories – besting the previous watermark of 25. Now, according to Ryan, the Badgers have a new mark to work at.
"The overall piece of work, I was very impressed with this group and how they hung in there," Ryan said. "It took a team to shoot 10-for-20 to get us out. We did some great things at Wisconsin that we won't know whether they'll happen again, but we're sure going to try."