The Badgers were about to get their 12th consecutive win in games following a loss since February 2007, in front of a rowdier-than-usual sellout crowd of 17,230 at the Kohl Center – and at the expense of their most hated rivals, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who at least on a temporary basis have assumed the basketball throne between the two neighboring schools.
But the hot hand of Gopher guard Lawrence Westbrook, along with superb execution of the full-court press, wouldn't let Wisconsin flex its hoops muscles over Minnesota once again in a 78-74 overtime victory for the Gophers.
"A loss like this always hurts," said a despondent Marcus Landry. "You come in, you're up 10 with about four minutes to go, and you end up losing the game, these are the games that hurt. These are games that stick with you, and these are games you never want to have games like this again."
Added junior guard Jason Bohannon said: "To blow it right down the stretch is really tough."
It all started with Minnesota's full-court press defense, which was particularly effective on a Wisconsin team that had trouble even inbounding the ball. As it happened, the Badgers committed 18 turnovers, including a season high six for point guard Trevon Hughes.
"We just made some poor decisions, as a team collectively," Bohannon said. "I had some, Trevon had some, everybody had some. We have to correct that. It was tough to handle, they did a good job pressuring, but we still should have been able to break it and make smarter decisions."
Then when Bohannon's layup attempt was blocked by a flying Paul Carter, UM got back-to-back threes, including Westbrook's game-tying shot with two seconds to go, to send the game to overtime.
"I've ran that over in my mind many times," Bohannon said of his layup try, which would have given Wisconsin a six-point lead with 37 seconds remaining.
"I should have pump faked, and either gotten the easy layup or drawn the foul, or I could have pulled it out. It was in the speed of the game, I just thought I would get it up there real quick."
"Looking back on it now," Bohannon lamented, "I probably should have made a different decision."
As it was, Minnesota looked like the fresher team in overtime. Westbrook continued to dominate, and had eight points on Minnesota's 10-0 run that propelled the Gophers to victory.
"He was remarkable," said UM coach Tubby Smith of Westbrook, who finished with a career high 29 points. "There is nothing bigger than a three to send it into overtime. When he attacks the basket with his size, the players know when he is in that zone. I am glad he got into it tonight when he did."
As much as Wisconsin lost their focus on the offensive end, Minnesota was tenacious with the ball down the stretch. In the final four minutes of regulation, the Gophers had 10 possessions that produced 20 points.
Then in overtime, Minnesota hit all four of their two-point attempts, and was 8-of-9 from the line.
"It came from their aggression; it came from our guys making some mistakes," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "They're human. The problem was, they were too human in too short a period of time."
This all came with Minnesota getting virtually nothing from its dynamic point guard, sophomore Al Nolen (second in the Big Ten in assists), who fouled out with seven points and no assists.
Westbrook and his defensive helpers were more than enough to pick up the slack.
"This one's going to keep me up (at night)," Landry said. "You think about the game, always think about what we could have done different, but it doesn't change the outcome of the game at all."