Saturday, January 25, 2014

Badgers cruise in West Lafayette, snap 3-game losing streak

No. 9 Wisconsin 72, Purdue 58

When the Badgers and Boilermakers took the floor at Mackey Arena today, both looked to rebound: literally and figuratively. 

The Badgers, after a program record 16-0 start, dropped their last three games (at Indiana, Michigan and at Minnesota). Meanwhile, Purdue rolled into Evanston with a three-game winning streak Tuesday night only to leave with a loss, an ugly 63-60 double overtime defeat. 

While the Boilermakers were not considered to be Big Ten title contenders, a win against a top 10 Wisconsin team would do wonders for its tournament seed (Big Ten and Big Dance). 

As for Bo Ryan's Badgers, a fourth straight loss would not only certainly knock them out of the top 10, it would, in all likelihood , knock them out of the Big Ten regular season title race. 

Unlike UW's trip to Minneapolis, the Bagders had a good deal more pep in their collective step today in West Lafayette. The Badgers jumped out to a 17-6 lead five minutes into the first half. However, the biggest early development was A.J. Hammons going to the bench with two fouls just a minute and a half into the game. 

A few minutes later, UW's Frank Kaminsky picked up his second as well; the Badgers struggled mightily without Kaminsky on the floor in The Barn, so the Badgers' balance would once again be tested. 

The Badgers led 20-13 halfway through the half, and while it was still early, the Badgers' defense was several shades better than it had been against Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota. Thirteen minutes into the half, Purdue was shooting just 35 percent (7-for-20) from the field. 

To make matters worse for the Boilers, Matt Painter rolled the dice by playing Hammons in spite of his foul situation. It backfired, as Hammons picked up his third foul with 9:51 left in the half. Without Hammons on the floor, Purdue would have to make shots from the outside. Coming into today's game, Purdue ranked just 7th in the Big Ten in three-point percentage during conference play (32.7 percent). 

Defensively, Purdue was up to the challenge, particularly after the Badgers' hot start from the field. The Boilermakers went into the half down 32-29, despite not having Hammons on the floor very much at all (zero first half points). 
The second half started much like the first: with the Badgers coming out firing. UW jumped out to a 41-31 lead a few minutes into the half, and the Boilermakers once again had to find some quick answers.

With Hammons still on the bench, Purdue needed to find production elsewhere. A pair of threes from Kendall Stephens and a layup by Ronnie Johnson gave them just that, cutting the UW lead to three. 

UW freshman Bronson Koenig hit one of the biggest shots of his young career, a corner three to push the Badgers' lead back up to eight, shortly before Hammons's return to the floor. 

On the bright side for Purdue, Hammons finally got on the board with his first points of the game. However, Purdue went back to him on the block on the very next possession--this time, Nigel Hayes swatted the 7-footer's shot. 

More importantly, as UW's guards, Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser made the plays to extend the Badgers' lead, Purdue simply couldn't hit a shit. With nine minutes left in the game, Purdue had shot just 34 percent from the field, a continuation of their struggles in Evanston. 

At one point, with the shot clock ticking under 10 seconds for the Badgers, Frank Kaminsky rumbled down the heart of the lane and rose for what was about to be a monstrous dunk. He was fouled and wasn't able to put the slam down, but it was a moment that harkened back to the confident Badgers of the 16-0 start, not the Badgers of the last three games. 

A Jackson triple with just over five minutes remaining gave the Badgers a 61-48 lead. Given how poorly the Boilermakers had shot all game, it was essentially over then and there. 

The Badgers scored a key confidence builder of a win in West Lafayette, ending a slide that would have been downgraded from "bad" to "catastrophic" with a loss today. 

Meanwhile, after winning three straight Big Ten games, the Boilermakers have followed that up with two straight losses. Against a UW squad that has been fairly underwhelming of late (and not just by their usual standards), Purdue's offensive performance today, at home, should be fairly concerning for Purdue fans. 

The Badgers return to Madison next, where they'll face Northwestern at the Kohl Center on Wednesday. As for Purdue, the road doesn't get any easier--they head to Ann Arbor on Thursday for a meeting with the 6-1/7-0 (pending tonight's result) Michigan Wolverines. 

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