[media-credit name="Andy Fate" align="alignright" width="336"][/media-credit]On its way to an unexpected No. 4 ranking and 15-0 record this season — the best since 1913-14 when UW also started 15-0 — Wisconsin has already had its fair share of impressive performances.
Sunday’s 75-71 win over No. 22 Iowa, however, may be the victory that spurs them on to a successful Big Ten campaign, after they showed they could win even under challenging circumstances.
“It was great to see,” junior guard Josh Gasser said. “ We haven’t really been in that situation yet this year, so it was great to see us respond. … It was really good to see the grit, toughness and composure we have as a team.”
After entering the half down by 11 points, Wisconsin had been dominated in almost every category by the Hawkeyes — a team that has had UW’s number, winning three of their last four matchups.
At half, the Badgers were shooting a measly 26.7 percent from the field and only 44.4 percent from the free throw line. Iowa had also accumulated 27 rebounds to Wisconsin’s 16 and had earned 18 second-chance points off 11 offensive rebounds.
Meanwhile for Wisconsin, leading-scorer Sam Dekker had missed all six of his field goal attempts and senior Ben Brust had missed all three of his three-point attempts.
But as has been the case all season for a team that has four players averaging over 10 points and no players averaging more than 14.5 points, a variety of key players at different times late in the game helped spur on a comeback from the first whistle of the second half, this time with Brust taking a turn leading Wisconsin to victory.
The comeback came full circle for Wisconsin, with 11:52 still on the clock when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was ejected after two technical coming out of a timeout.
Brust would make four straight free throws to give Wisconsin a 43-41 lead, after Wisconsin struggled from the line earlier in the game.
“Those were the four hardest free throws I have ever taken in my life,” Brust said. “They all really didn’t feel that good, but they went in anyway. It definitely swung [momentum].”
Unable to compete with Iowa in the paint, McCaffery gave credit to Brust for converting a number three three-pointers and scoring all of his 19 points in the second half to help swing the momentum solidly in Wisconsin’s favor.
From that point on, it was business as usual for the Badgers, as a combination of different players contributed the rest of the way to propel Wisconsin to its 15th-straight victory. On the night six different players scored at least 8 points.
Free throws lead the way
After only getting to the line nine times in the first half and converting only four baskets, Wisconsin made the most of the charity stripe in the second half.
Going to the line a whopping 26 times, the Badgers made 21 baskets — including Brust’s four to give them the lead — in the second half.
While Ryan admitted that missing free-throws can be problematic, particularly freshman forward Nigel Hayes’ 6-for-10 performance where he came away from a number of trips to the line with one basket out of two, points are points and he is happy to come away with even one point on each possession.
“I know people agonize and they go,’[Hayes] has to shoot free throws better,’ If we can get one point per possession, we can live with that,” Ryan said.