Off Balanced Finish

Ben Brust (USA Today Sports)

After showing poise in last week's two overtime games, No.20 Wisconsin - ranked for the first time since late November - crumbled under its own mistakes, ruining its overtime magic in a 58-53 extra-period setback to Minnesota Thursday at Williams Arena.

MINNEAPOLIS - If he looks at the final Big Ten conference standings on the evening of March 10 and sees his team one game out of first place, senior Jared Berggren knows which game he's going to look back to and say ‘that was the one.'

Even with six games left in what has been an unpredictable conference season, it's hard not to acknowledge that this one stung, a lot, for the University of Wisconsin.

"Based on the position that we were in and how we just failed to do things we've done the last few games, where we found ways to grind things out and made enough plays to come out with a win, we just weren't able to do that," said Berggren. "If things do come out where we end up a game short, this is definitely one we'll look back on and have some regrets."

Shooting only 30.5 percent from the floor, including a dismal 10 percent in overtime, No.20 Wisconsin's climb toward the top of the conference stalled with a 58-53 overtime loss to a desperate Minnesota team at Williams Arena.

Freshman Sam Dekker led Wisconsin with 14 points and junior Ben Brust – fresh off being named the conference's co-player of the week – added 11, but it was a lack of offense from others and the miscues that put Wisconsin (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten) in a three-way tie for third place in the Big Ten, two games behind No.1 Indiana and No.8 Michigan State.

The Badgers had never played three straight overtime games until Thursday night, but failed to execute the types of things down the stretch that pushed the Badgers into the national rankings for the first time since late November.

Against Iowa and then-No.3 Michigan, Wisconsin was able to fight out of inconsistent shooting to make a big shot or a big defensive stop in the extra frame.

The game even had an eerie feel to last year's meeting north of the border. In that contest, the Badgers led by as many as 13 points, but Wisconsin missed nine straight shots to end regulation. The Badgers recovered that time, scoring 15 of their 17 overtime points from the line in a 68-61 victory. No such luck this time with Wisconsin finishing 1-for-10 in the extra session and attempted just four free throws.

When it boiled down to it, the scoring issues went back farther than the Badgers' fourth overtime period in eight days.

After Ryan Evans's free throw put Wisconsin up 49-43 with 5:08 remaining, the Badgers didn't score until the 1:20 mark of overtime, an 8:48 scoreless drought. In the final 15 possessions, the Badgers finished with only four points.

Evans was part of the problem, as the senior finished 2-for-8 from the field and from the free throw line. In his last eight games, Evans is 26-for-77 (33.8 percent) from the floor and 17-for-41 (41.5 percent) from the free throw line.

"If he just makes his free throws we're out of here," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "We're on the plane already. Come on, what am I going to do with the guy? You knew (the misses) were going to get us one game."

In the final 5:08 over regulation, Wisconsin went 0-for-3 on free throws, 0-for-2 on threes, 0-for-4 on twos and four turnovers, none being more critical than the one senior Mike Bruesewitz made.

After drawing a charge with 22.6 seconds left, giving the Badgers an opportunity to push its lead to two possessions, Bruesewitz made the mental mistake of moving on the baseline when his initial options were covered. That resulted in a change of possession and a tie game after Joe Coleman sank two free throws.

"I messed it up," said Bruesewitz, who scored all five of his points in the first half. "I knew I shouldn't have moved … I just took one too many steps.

"We had the game in hand, and I messed up."

Bruesewitz wasn't alone in sharing the self pity. Wisconsin still had a chance to win the game with 17.6 seconds left on the clock, but Traevon Jackson's one-man show didn't execute. Trying a rub screen with Berggren, Jackson tried multiple times to draw a foul and forced up a prayer of a shot that didn't come close to winning the game for Wisconsin.

After that, Minnesota (18-7, 6-6) scored the first five points of overtime and never trailed with Andre Hollins scoring nine of his game-high 21 in extra period.

"I just didn't make a play," said Jackson. "I felt like I let my team down more than anything else."

Added Berggren: ‘He's capable of making better plays than that, and he knows it."

On a night where no Wisconsin player shot over 43 percent, Jackson had the roughest night, finishing 3-for-14 from the field (1-for-9 after the first half), 1-for-6 from 3-point range, four assists and only three turnovers.

"He really struggled," said Ryan. "He couldn't complete the play. He was trying to draw some contact. He just didn't make some good decisions finishing."

Wisconsin was looking to become the first team to win three straight overtime games since Marquette in February 10, but the Badgers never regained a solid foothold after Dekker's torrent stretch. Scoring nine straight points for Wisconsin, included back-to-back threes, Dekker's hustle play was poised to be a turning point.

After missing his second free throw attempt, Dekker surprised Julian Welch and knocked the ball out of his hands and into Evans', who drew a foul off the hustle play. Evans made one of his two free throws to put Wisconsin up 49-43. It marked Wisconsin's largest lead of the second half and the last points for UW, which closed regulation with eight straight empty possessions.

"If we execute the way we are capable of and have been down the stretch, we probably survive and get out of here in regulation with a win," said Berggren. "That's not the case. We got a little stagnate. We let the pressure get to us. We didn't make plays when we had to step up."

The first half was foreshadowing of the problems to come. Wisconsin led by as many as 10 points, but went 8:44 and eight straight misses between field goals. It also didn't help that Wisconsin missed 10 of its last 11 3-point attempts, which allowed the Gophers to rebound from going 7:40 without a point and scoring only four points in the first 10 minutes.

Now the Badgers have to regroup for No.13 Ohio State on Sunday afternoon, a game that could determine whether Wisconsin remains league contenders any longer.

"We're still in the race for the Big Ten, but it's a little tougher now with this loss," said Jackson, "It's disappointed."

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