Once a weakness is exposed, teams will do everything in their power to exploit it until it is fixed.
After Saturday night’s game at the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team better be ready for opponents to send them a flurry of ball screens.
In No. 3 Wisconsin’s (16-2 3-2 Big Ten) 77-70 loss to Michigan (13-4, 5-0) Saturday night, the Wolverines created space for their shooters off of ball screens early and often, building a first half lead that would never be overcome.
After Wisconsin was pounded in the paint for 52 points against Indiana last Tuesday, it focused on taking away drives to the basket and settled to allow Michigan into midrange and deep looks.
“We took away the glass from them and we took away the drives to the rim,” head coach Bo Ryan said after his team’s first loss to Michigan at home since 1999. “You say ‘So OK, you’re going to have to make tough twos.’ I watched four games today of other teams playing and guys didn’t hit the twos like that.
“We’ve had games where we’ve had guys who hit shots like and it feels great when your guys hit them, but it doesn’t feel so great when the other guy hits them.”
Michigan was making the shots Wisconsin was giving them through the first 10 minutes of the first half hitting 78.6 percent from the floor and knocking in all four of its attempt from beyond the arch.
Glenn Robinson III was taking full advantage of the space he was given by Sam Dekker off of screens picking up 12 of his 14 points in the first half.
In the final 10 minutes of the first, the Badgers were able to hold the Wolverines to just 15 points but still allowed 43 points through the first 20 minutes—just two points off of the most they have allowed this season—on a 60.7 percent shooting clip from the floor.
Wisconsin’s defense began to turn it around in the second half, forcing Michigan into more difficult mid-range looks and causing them to settle for three-point attempts.
“Sometimes when you are trying to fix something guys aren’t quite sure and you just have to keep working through it which we finally did,” Ryan said. “We finally got them to miss.”
Once the eight-minute mark came in the second half, the Badgers’ defense clamped down, holding the Wolverines with out a basket for over four-and-a-half minutes while the Wisconsin offense capitalized with a 10-0 run and bringing its deficit within one point.
“We were on a pretty good run there defensively,” Ryan said. “We were forcing them to take tougher shots and running them off the line.”
Although Wisconsin was able to bring the game within reach, Nik Stauskas was too much for the defense to handle, sealing the Badgers’ fate with a three after a Gasser foul and six free throws to ice the game.
Coming off of a defensive performance that allowed Indiana to hit 53.3 percent of its shots, Wisconsin allowed Michigan to shoot 54.7 percent, giving up 70-plus points for the ninth straight game.
Michigan head coach John Beilein knows his team was able to knock down a lot of difficult jumpers that were the difference in the Wolverine’s fifth-straight conference win.
“They play such efficient basketball you have to shoot like we did tonight in order to win,” Beilein said. “We really shot the ball well.”
In Wisconsin’s back-to-back losses, it seemed to have run into a team that was on fire offensively, making shots even if there were defenders there to contest them.
“They made some tough shots. What are you going to do sometimes? We just had to be more physical on them, I think,” Gasser said. “I thought we were a little soft on them in a few of those screening situations early in the game and that hurt us. Obviously, you can always do better. We didn’t play well, obviously, but [sometimes] you’ve got to pick your poison. I’m definitely not happy about it, but you have to move on.”
Suddenly, Wisconsin has dropped two straight games and fallen to the fourth spot in the Big Ten. The defense continues to be an issue has become glaring in its last two games and things won’t get easier in Minneapolis Wednesday when the Badgers take on a Minnesota team that just took down No. 11 Ohio State.
“You have to play really well to win games in this league. Doesn’t matter where you’re playing. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Gasser said. “So, it’s definitely a little different taste in our mouths now coming out and losing a few times here. We have to see what we’re made of here. It’s a long season — two losses aren’t going to kill us — but we have to get better.”