January 16, 2009

Badgers collapse in loss to Gophers

MADISON, Wis. - Lawrence Westbrook pump faked 26-feet from the hoop, took a step past both Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry and drilled a three-point shot with two seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

The only sound from the 17,230 people inside the Kohl Center came from the Gopher faithful.

The rest of the crowd was left wondering how Wisconsin, a team nearly invincible at home, was able to choke away a 10-point lead it had with only four minutes to play en route to an excruciating 78-74 overtime loss to the Gophers.

"Coach said in the locker room that we wilted under pressure," UW senior Marcus Landry, who finished with a team high 18 points, said. "And you know? We did. Everybody was at fault, me with four turnovers, Trevon with six, all these things add up."

Devron Bostick hit two free throws for Minnesota to cut the Badger lead to eight with three and a half minutes to play. From that point on, led by Westbrook, who finished with a game and career high 29 points, the Gophers pressured UW the entire length of the court and forced turnovers as it clawed back into the game.

"What really hurt us were the points they gained on the turnovers," UW head coach Bo Ryan said after the game. "Because then you are spread out, your offense goes to defense quickly. They were much more athletic than us with, from one through five with who they had on the floor, and we were not quick enough to transition back defensively when we turned it over."

But perhaps the most crucial moment of Minnesota's comeback came on what seemed to be an uncontested Jason Bohannon lay-up. After Hughes found Bohannon wide open on the other side of half-court, Bohannon sprinted toward the rim and attempted the lay in.

At that moment, Minnesota's Paul Carter came swooping in for the block and Damian Johnson drilled a three on the other side to cut the lead to one with 19 seconds left in the game.

A bucket by Bohannon would have given the Badgers a six-point lead, one that would have likely ended the Gopher rally.

"I ran over that in my mind many times," Bohannon, who finished with 16 points, said. "I should have pump faked and I would have had an easy lay-up or drawn the foul or something like that. Or else I could have pulled it out.

"It was in the speed of the game and I thought I'd just get it up there real quick and get it off the glass and if he blocks it, it would be goaltending."

There was no goaltending call on the play and the five-point swing kept the Gophers 8-2 run during the final 48 seconds alive and well.

"I thought our comeback was nothing short of a great effort by our kids to hang in there," Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith said following his team's 16th win of the season. "They showed a lot of moxie, a lot of toughness and they made some clutch plays."

During the overtime period, Minnesota was forced to play without Al Nolen who had fouled out, but it did not seem to fluster the Gophers as it continued its run from regulation to score the first seven points of the period.

Westbrook scored nine of Minnesota's 16 points in the extra frame including four clutch free throws after UW had cut the lead to two.

"He was remarkable," Smith said. "I think he has that ability because he is a tough guy. There is nothing bigger than a three to send it into overtime. When he attacks the basket with his size, the players know when he is in that zone. I am glad he got into it tonight when he did."

What makes this loss even more shocking for a suddenly floundering Wisconsin team is the fact it played great on both sides of the ball during the first half en route to enjoying an 11-point halftime lead. After falling behind 10-2 early, the Badgers responded with a 27-6 run over 12 minutes of action to lead 29-16 at the under four minute media timeout.

"We were feeling very good," Bohannon said. "We made some good plays offensively and defensively and we pushed that lead up. It was crucial for us to get that momentum going but we didn't sustain it. We didn't push that lead…up to 20.

"That's what we need to do. We need to keep getting that instinct that once we get 10 we can't get comfortable, we have to get it up to 20 and make it even harder for them to come back."

The Badgers had held this Minnesota team to 40 points through 35 minutes of the game but then let the Gophers score 22 points in the final five minutes to force overtime. That is what makes this loss more painful than the others.

"A loss like this always hurts," Landry said. "You come in and you're up 10 with about four minutes to go and you end of losing the game. These are the games that hurt. These are the games that stick with you. These are the games that you never want to happen again in the future.

"You don't want to have games like this again. It's really important that we take it to heart and learn."

Quick notes:

-Only three Badgers scored during the first half. Landry, Bohannon and Jon Leuer combined for 33 points on 12-for-19 shooting.

-Four Badgers finished the game with double-digit scoring: Landry (18), Bohannon (16), Leuer (15) and Hughes (14)

-Over the past two games, Hughes has committed 11 turnovers with only five assists.

-After shooting 50 percent from the floor in the first half, UW finished the game only shooting 38.3 percent from the field.

-Minnesota did not attempt a free throw in the first half, but finished the game shooting 83.3 percent from the field after hitting 15-of-18 second half shots from the charity stripe.

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