MINNEAPOLIS — It wasn’t shocking the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team walked out of Williams Arena with a defeat Thursday night.
The surprising part was how the No. 20 Badgers lost.
UW had control of the game and uncharacteristically let it slip away. The result — a 58-53 overtime loss to Minnesota — ended an impressive streak and struck a major blow to the Badgers’ chances in the Big Ten Conference title race.
One of the trademarks of coach Bo Ryan’s program is the ability to hold leads in crunch time. The Badgers had won 50 consecutive games when leading or tied with 5 minutes to play, including 15 in a row to start this season.
That streak ended in dramatic fashion against the Gophers (18-7, 6-6 Big Ten), who rallied from a six-point deficit over the final 5 minutes of regulation and never trailed in overtime to end a four-game losing streak to the Badgers.
Minnesota sophomore point guard Andre Hollins scored seven of his game-high 21 points in the extra session, including four free throws in the final 17.9 seconds to clinch the program’s first victory in this series since Feb. 18, 2010.
“The sky was falling around here,” said Minnesota coach Tubby Smith, whose team had lost six of its previous eight games before rallying against UW. “So sometimes when the sky is falling and you’re laying under the ceiling, you think it’s going to cave in on you. They wanted it, but we had to have it.”
The Gophers showed that urgency down the stretch by clamping down on defense and forcing UW to make mistakes it usually doesn’t make.
There was plenty of blame to go around for UW (17-8, 8-4), which scored four points over its final 15 possessions of the game. The Badgers went 8 minutes, 48 seconds without scoring after senior forward Ryan Evans made a free throw to give UW a 49-43 lead with 5:08 remaining in regulation.
Evans missed his final five free throws of the game and finished 2-for-8 overall. He was also 2-for-8 from the field, including several misses in the paint early in the second half.
“If he just makes his free throws, we’re out of here. We’re on the plane already,” Ryan said of Evans, who dropped to 40.3 percent at the line on the season. “C’mon, what am I going to do with the guy? You know it was going to get us one game — hopefully, not two? What can you say?”
Another senior, Mike Bruesewitz, made a critical error late in regulation. The forward, whose on-the-money inbounds pass set up Ben Brust’s buzzer-beating miracle at the end of regulation Saturday against Michigan, was in a similar position with UW clinging to a 49-47 lead with 22.6 seconds remaining in regulation Thursday.
But Bruesewitz turned the ball over after taking too many steps while trying to inbound the ball to senior forward Jared Berggren. Minnesota’s Joe Coleman made the mistake hurt by drawing a foul and making two free throws to tie the game with 17.6 seconds left.
“It was my fault,” Bruesewitz said. “I messed it up. I knew I shouldn’t have moved. We had a timeout and I knew it was getting close (to a 5-second call). I tried to step and took one too many.
“The internal clock’s getting down. I’ve been in that position 100 times, if not more. I’ve done it enough in practice when you can’t move. I just took one too many steps. I was trying to get a better angle to get the ball into Jared. They called it and that was the game.”
UW still had a chance to win it in regulation. Ryan called a play that had Berggren set a rub screen for sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson at the top of the key. Jackson hit the winning shot with 2.1 seconds remaining in UW’s 45-44 victory over Minnesota on Jan. 26 at the Kohl Center, but this time he forced up a jumper in that paint with time running down that didn’t come close to going in.
That ended a stretch of eight consecutive empty possessions for the Badgers to close regulation.
“I just didn’t make a play,” Jackson said. “I thought I got a foul, but I’ve got to make a play. They’re not going to call a foul in that situation.”
Things didn’t get any better for UW’s offense in overtime. Evans missed two free throws with 4:07 left, and the next two possessions ended with Jackson missing forced shots on drives to the basket.
“He really struggled,” Ryan said of Jackson, who finished 3-for-14 from the field. “He couldn’t complete the play. He was trying to draw some contact. He just didn’t make some good decisions finishing. Getting in there, you can draw people and then make a pass or kick it out.”
Hollins’ 3-pointer with 3:38 left in overtime gave the Gophers the lead for good.
UW freshman forward Sam Dekker, who finished with a team-high 14 points, made two free throws with 1:20 left to cut UW’s deficit to 54-51. But Berggren missed an open 3-point attempt on UW’s next possession, and the Badgers allowed about 15 seconds to run off the clock before fouling Hollins.
He made two free throws with 17.9 seconds remaining, then answered a Berggren putback with two more with 6.4 seconds left to seal UW’s fate.
“Those are games that we’ve got to learn from,” Jackson said. “We usually do a good job of closing those out. Credit to them, they hit some big shots, got some stops, they deserve to win. They were a better team today.”
The defeat dropped UW two games behind Big Ten co-leaders Indiana and Michigan State with six games remaining. There’s a good chance this loss will come back to haunt UW down the road.
“The last few games, we just found a way to grind it out and make just enough plays to come out with the lead,” Berggren said after UW’s three-game winning streak was snapped. “Tonight, we just weren’t able to do that.
“There’s a lot of games left. But if things do come out where we end up a game short (of first place), this is definitely one that we can look back on and have some regrets.”