We cannot complain about the refs. Yes, there were some typical Jim Burr calls, but this loss is completely on us. When D.J. Byrd scored with 1:10 to put us in front we should have won the game. At that point, we basically need to play one possession on defense and begin the procession to the free throw line in our favor. We did not do that. We let Ryan Evans drive, he hit a shot that was not challenged at all, and that flipped the margin of error in Wisconsin's favor. Instead of the Badgers having no margin for error, now it was our turn.
We brought the ball up the floor and JaJuan Johnson got off a shot that kindly could be called rushed. Suddenly, Wisconsin had the ball as the best free throw shooting team in the Big Ten and we were sending them to the line. That is how quickly things can turn. In the course of two possessions, one for each team, we had gone from controlling the game to having lost because of our own actions. All the questionable calls (and they went both ways) didn't matter at that point. We could have virtually ended the game with a stop and we didn't, resulting in Evans' basket. We got beat because we didn't challenge a guy that was likely the fourth option at best, then we forced a shot when we needed to be patient and get a good look.
This loss really, really hurts because I feel like we were the better team, but we fell apart in the final minute after dominating the previous 19 of the second half. Other than the spurt that put Wisconsin up by six, we were the better team until that final minute over the course of the second half. D.J. Byrd hit some tough shots. Ryne Smith had two big threes, and JJ was unstoppable on the low block.
That is where this game is frustrating. JJ couldn't be stopped within 10 feet of the basket, but we either didn't get him the ball or he was playing beyond the three point arc late. When we were down to start the half we went to him and he generated 6 points on six possessions within three feet of the basket. Instead of looking for this on the game's most important possession we had him try a rushed, contested 18 foot jumper.
I have to credit Wisconsin, and especially Jon Leuer, for doing what they needed to do in order to win. When we took a seven point lead it was Leuer that hit the big shots the Badgers needed. Jordan Taylor had a quiet 15, but it was Leuer that was the calm presence they needed. When we went up seven they could have folded, but Wisconsin attacked, got a few calls from drunken Jim Burr to get to the line, and steadied themselves to get back in the game. There is no shame at all in this loss, but it still hurts.
The Big Ten has now been handed to Ohio State. To have any chance whatever we must win the remaining eight games and have them lose twice. That won't happen. What is more troublesome is that like the West Virginia and Minnesota games, we came completely unhinged in the final minute on the road. If we win at Illinois and Michigan State those will be considered good wins, but this could have been a great win. We could have established ourselves as the lone contender to Ohio State, but instead we're pulled back into the morass with everyone else.
It's hard to break the positives and negatives down because this game played out like I thought it would. It was a close, defensive-minded game and we had a lead within the last minute. Somehow, after playing good defense all night, we gave up 8 points in 50 seconds at the worst time of the game. We had uncharacteristic turnovers early, and a major defensive lapse late. The free throws and the late dunk by Evans came from us having to force things.
This loss also hurts because it is the type of game we won last year. We can't even use the Hummel excuse, as it was like the Minnesota and Texas A&M games. We're missing that last minute poise we had last year to close games. they have all been on the road so far, but we have to get it back before the NCAA Tournament.
It is now going to be a long week as we have the weekend off and we prepare for Indiana. One week from tonight we will crush the Hoosiers. Sure, we're going to hear that they have injuries (and they do. It will be a major factor) but everyone will feel better after we stomp them in Mackey Arena next week. For now, this one really hurts. I feel like we had it after Byrd's basket, and we played about the worst we possibly could after it.
All we can do is move on. We can win the next eight games, and I feel we will win at least seven of them. That will get us a good seed in the tournament, which is what this season is all about. All I care about is the NCAA Tournament this year. This loss hurts us seeding wise, but the goal is still to get to Houston.