Sunday, February 16, 2014

Michigan's comeback falls short, Badgers knock off Wolverines in Ann Arbor

No. 15 Michigan 62, No. 21 Wisconsin 75

The Wolverines have taken care of business on the road this season, notching wins in Madison, East Lansing and Columbus; on Sunday, Michigan's season became about defending its home court. 

The No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers rolled into Ann Arbor this afternoon with a three-game winning streak, on the heels of a 1-5 stretch. Wisconsin's defense tightened up after that brutal stretch and, lo and behold, the Badgers got back on the winning track. 

However, winning at home (or on the road against a team like Illinois) is a different animal from winning in Ann Arbor against the team tied for the top spot in the conference standings. 

The Badgers clearly came ready to play, as they jumped out to an early 12-2 lead, paced by a pair of threes from Josh Gasser. The script was a little different this time around; this time, the Badgers were the ones shooting the lights out early in the game. 

Meanwhile, Michigan struggled on the offensive end, with just seven points by the second media timeout. Also, as is Wisconsin's defensive style, the Wolverines didn't have a single three-point attempt to their name by that point in the game. 

Michigan had no answer for Frank Kaminsky on the block and the slashing Sam Dekker, either. The Badgers are by no means a great offensive rebounding team --in fact, Bo Ryan de-emphasizes it in favor of getting back on defense-- but UW had six offensive boards through 11 minutes or so of play. If the Wolverines couldn't find a way to clean up on the glass and toughen up on the block, it appeared as if the Badgers were poised to upset them in Ann Arbor. 

Michigan continued to take the long twos Wisconsin routinely offers, but, unlike the matchup in Madison, the Wolverines couldn't connect. More importantly, the Badgers consistently held Michigan to one-and-done. 

With UW dominating every aspect of the game in the first half, the Wolverines might have been lucky to be down "just" 34-19 at the break. 

In the first half, Wisconsin rebounded 44 percent of its misses, while Michigan shot just 32 percent from the field, in addition to a startling zero assists to seven turnovers. For Michigan to have any chance at chipping away at the deficit, just about all of that would have to change, and change fast.

A Caris LeVert three early in the second cut the lead to 12, but the Wolverines struggled to inch closer. Wisconsin coming up with seemingly every 50-50 play didn't help the Wolverines, desperate for a run of any sort. 

LeVert buried another triples and a pair of free throws, powering the Wolverines through the early stages of the second half comeback effort. Jordan Morgan then converted a a strong move for an and-1 opportunity, eventually cutting the UW lead to 45-36 at the 11:54 mark. 

Michigan kept pushing, eventually cutting the deficit to five with 6:51 to play. Crisler Arena got louder than it had all game and the Wolverines had all the momentum. 

Still, there was work left to do. The Wolverines cut the deficit to three--that's when Frank Kaminsky took over. 

The 7-footer scored seven straight points for the Badgers, preventing Michigan from getting any closer. The Wolverines had no answer for the big man, who went around and shot over Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford all game. 

Kaminsky extended the lead to eight with an and-1, and then Josh Gasser buried a corner three after a Stauskas turnover. Michigan was running out of time. 

UW went on a crushing 13-3 run once Michigan cut it to three, and that was all she wrote. Michigan got a career day from Caris LeVert (25 points), but Kaminsky matched that with 25 of his own. Additionally, Michigan didn't get enough elsewhere, especially from Stauskas, who had another tough game on the offensive end while being hassled by Josh Gasser all afternoon (4-for-11 from the field). 

Despite the loss, the Wolverines' title hopes haven't evaporated just yet. With that said, next Sunday's contest against the visiting Spartans now becomes a must-win for the Wolverines. 

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