January 28, 2009

Badgers squander opportunity to break slump

MADISON, Wis. - Everything seemed to be going in favor of Wisconsin during the final minutes of the second half. After taking the lead with under seven minutes to play, the Badgers looked poised to snap out of their midseason funk and get a big win.

Even UW sophomore Keaton Nankivil, who coming into the game had only made one three-point shot all season, hit all five of his attempts from distance en route to a game high 21-point outburst.

With all that said, though, someone forgot to tell the players suited up in Purdue gold and black they were not supposed to win this one, even as they were trailing with under five minutes to play.

"We have a good group of guys that are fun to be around (and) that come to practice every day and try to get better," Purdue head coach Matt Painter said after his teams 64-63 win over Wisconsin. "When you do those things, you're going to win some games and we were fortunate tonight to win the game."

Back-to-back-back three-point shots from Keaton Grant, Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel on three straight possessions gave the Boilermakers a two-point lead with just over a minute to play, a lead UW was unable to overcome as it eventually lost for the fifth straight time.

"It's frustrating," UW junior point guard Trevon Hughes said after his team could not find a way to hold on. "We're always there, we just can't end up on the left hand side."

After freshman guard Jordan Taylor missed an open look from distance that would have given the Badgers the lead with 38 seconds to play, Purdue's Grant knocked down a pair of free throws to give the Boilermakers a four-point edge with half a minute to play.

Taylor responded with a quick left handed lay-in on UW's next possession after he broke free of his man and got to the lane. Then, UW quickly fouled Kramer on the ensuing inbound, sending him to the line for the one-and-one bonus.

Kramer, who came into the game a 79 percent foul shooter and still struggling with a lingering foot injury, missed the front end giving UW a chance to tie.

"They do us a favor and miss a free throw on the front end of a one-and-one," UW head coach Bo Ryan, who suffered back-to-back home losses for the first time at UW, said. "Opportunity."

Out of the time out, Taylor received the inbound pass and eventually drove the lane. He got past his defender initially, but was forced into taking an awkward left-handed runner that rimmed in and out, essentially thwarting any chance of a Badger victory.

"We were just trying to make a play and the shot was there," Taylor, who played 22 minutes and scored six points, said. "I thought I had a good look, (but) it just did not fall for me.

"There is nothing I can do about it now."

Purdue started UW's current five-game losing skid over two weeks ago and has now added another chapter to the Badgers worst stretch of basketball since the 1998 season. In the first game, Hummel and JaJuan Johnson torched Wisconsin.

This time around, it was E'Twaun Moore's offensive prowess that did in UW as he bounced back from a dismal four-point effort in the first meeting to score 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting Tuesday night.

Because of his success early in the game, UW was hesitant to leave Moore in the waning minutes of the contest for fear he would be the one hitting the big shot. Instead, they converged on him, allowing him to record the assist on all three of Purdue's huge three-point shots.

"You've got to stop him," Ryan explained after the game. "But they found the open guy and they hit him. Not good timing for us when they hit them. Pick your poison sometimes."

For the Badgers, two stretches of lacking offense played a major role in the outcome of the game. As the first half was winding down, Purdue went on a 8-2 run over more than a three minute stretch to open up what eventually led to a six-point Boilermaker halftime lead.

Then, in the second half, UW went nearly five minutes without a bucket when it had ample opportunity to take the lead from a Purdue offense that had also hit a rut.

"They played solid defense, but I think we had our looks and it just was not falling for us," Hughes, who chipped in 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, said. "We cannot go 10 minutes in the game without getting anything on the ball."

The Boilermakers shot nearly 60 percent from the field for the game while UW was only able to muster a 43 percent mark in the same category.

In the first half, Purdue was even better (65 percent) as the Badgers defense collapsed on several possessions allowing for an easy drive to the lane for the Boilermaker guards.

"The first half (Purdue was) definitely getting easy shots," Ryan said. "Like I said to somebody, I've never seen that before. But, you still got to play the next 20 and our guys came out and tried to recover from that.

"But you know, you just can't put yourself in that position, but you can't just keep thinking about that while you're playing the second half."

UW will have another opportunity to put an end to its current skid when it heads to Northwestern for a Saturday night tilt.

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