A senior-laden Cornell team dismantled Wisconsin's stingy man-to-man defense by shooting 61.1 percent overall (the highest mark since Indiana shot 70.2 percent in 2001 – the year before UW Coach Bo Ryan came to campus) and 53.3 percent from 3-point range.
Nobody could stop the Big Red, not even UW's senior duo that combined for a program-tying mark of 105 wins over their stellar careers.
Jason Bohannon did his best – finishing with 18 points in UW's 87-69 loss to Cornell in the NCAA Tournament Second Round in Jacksonville, Fla. – but fellow senior guard Trevon Hughes will probably wallow in the fact that he ended his college career shooting 3-of-8 for 10 points and a season-high six turnovers when he watches the national semifinals from Lucas Oil Field today.
"It's not the way I wanted to go out," Hughes said.
It may still sting Hughes when Wisconsin basketball opens fall camp next season and he's overseas trying to continue his basketball career. But in looking at the glass half full instead of half empty, Hughes should be glad that his team didn't follow popular protocol. If they had done that, Wisconsin might have been in New York this week, battling for the NIT title.
Hughes can be proud of how he and Bohannon led an overachieving team this season, a team predicted to finish seventh or eighth in the preseason conference standings. The total victories by the Badgers (24-9) tied for fifth-best in program history, improved three games in conference to finished one game out of first place and accomplished all of that without their best post player - Jon Leuer - for half of the conference season.
"There were a couple moments after the game when everyone got teary-eyed," said Bohannon. "It was a tremendous experience (here). We've done a lot of great things.
"Our team played with a chip on its shoulder for a lot of the year. If you're playing with a chip on your shoulder and want to prove people wrong, you are going to do a lot of things."
The things UW accomplished - although certainly lost amongst the end-of-season rubble – were landmark achievements for this squad: beating Arizona and Maryland to earn third place in the ultra-competitive Maui Invitational, registering a win over Duke amidst a raucous home crowd in one of the program's top all-time moments, ousting in-state rival Marquette to break a two-game losing streak in the series and knock off Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue during the conference season, three teams that finished in a tie for the regular-season title.
What makes the list more impressive is UW – who went 7-5 against the 65-team field – is that the Badgers went 2-1 against the teams taking the floor here Saturday.
"We beat some teams that people ruled us out of beating," said sophomore Jordan Taylor, who will be expected to run the offense next year.
But Taylor went on to say that the Badgers are far from satisfied, citing the need to get back into the gym in order to work harder and longer than they did the year before, as members of Wisconsin are anxious to make its run to the Final Four.
For the second straight year, Wisconsin went 1-2 in postseason play, going one-and-out in the Big Ten Tournament and 1-1 in the NCAA Tournament, developing the trend of being a regular-season overachiever and a tournament underachiever. In Ryan's first four years, UW was knocked out of the NCAAs by three No. 1 seeds and a No. 3. In the past five years, it was eliminated by a six, a seven, an eight, a 10 and a 12.
If there's any question about the ‘now-is-the-time' philosophy, the Badgers will have six seniors on their roster who have gone two years without a conference title or a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.
The main leader will be Leuer, who more often than not was the offensive catalyst down the stretch. When virtually the entire roster struggled to be productive, Leuer averaged 19 points over his final five games. The junior finished the year leading the team with 15.4 points in 24 games played, showing that he can carry the burden of the offense.
Taylor finished third in the country with 3.03 assist-to-turnover ratio, giving the Badgers a solid, confident player at point guard next season. The real question is … who will be the backup point guard or the other guard, period?
Could it be Rob Wilson, who had a breakout 13-point game off the bench against Michigan at the Kohl Center? Can Tim Jarmusz find a consistent scoring streak and improve his defense? Can Ryan Evans or Mike Bruesewitz make big enough jumps in their games to play major minutes? Can incoming freshmen Duje Dukan or Josh Gasser add to the mix, even though freshmen rarely play major minutes at UW?
After having two seniors lead the charge up the hill last fall, Wisconsin will have no shortage of leaders stepping up to make sure the Badgers are as ready as they can be come October.
"That off-season really pays off," Bohannon said. "We made tremendous strides from last year to this year with our off-season conditioning and on the floor. (Guys) realize what it takes to be a good team. For them, they've got to come back next year stronger than ever and want it as much as ever."
Because when they do come back, it'll be another hill to climb with Houston being the final destination.