Michigan falters late in loss to Wisconsin

Posted at 10:09 PM, Feb 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-28 22:09:27-05
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard reminded his players before the Badgers' final home game about just how far the team has come this season.
The Badgers are such a different team now, that it seems incomprehensible that they lost to lowly Western Illinois way back in the season opener in November.
Bronson Koenig scored 19 points, and freshman forward Ethan Happ helped trigger a second-half surge with clutch plays on both ends of the floor in a 68-57 victory Sunday over Michigan.
Happ added 12 points and six rebounds for the Badgers (19-10, 11-5 Big Ten), who have won 10 of their last 11 games to surge back to the top half of the conference standings.
"We've righted the ship. Let's make sure we finish ... our last regular season home game on the right note," Gard said in recounting his pregame talk on Sunday.
They finished strong, building on an 8-0 run with Wisconsin trailing 40-39 that started with Happ on the bench. The 6-foot-9 freshman forward came back with 11:44 left and stole a Michigan entry pass before driving to the bucket for a layup at the other end.
The conference leader in steals added two more against Michigan and blocked two shots.
"It's like the same movie I've seen many, many times -- a post man that does a lot of things, keeps the ball alive," Michigan coach John Beilein said about Happ.
The Badgers certainly got the message from what Happ called one of Gard's best pregame speeches of the season. Bad home nonconference losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee are distant memories.
"It was heartbreaking to lose those games," Happ said. "I'll never forget how that felt. We're such a different team."
Wisconsin seems to be a near-lock for the NCAA tournament now with a resume that includes wins over four ranked opponents and the victory against the short-handed but gritty Wolverines.
Zak Irvin scored 14 points for Michigan (20-10, 10-7).
Losers of three of four, the Wolverines missed out on a chance to improve their tournament resume. A dangerous team from the perimeter, Michigan was held to a season-low for 3-point attempts in going 5 of 13.
The loss of senior guard Caris LaVert to a lower left leg injury, plus the season-long absence of Spike Albrecht with hip injuries have hurt, Beilein said.
"The timing has to be perfect," Beilein said. "People aren't adjusting. We're trying to adjust."
One of Wisconsin's strength defensively is limiting opponents from the 3-point line.
"I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of taking away what they like to go to that sets up 3s," Gard said.
Koenig lunged for a loose ball to save two possessions in the first half. Happ was active around the bucket. Vitto Brown gave Wisconsin a boost from the perimeter after hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range and finished with 14 points.
Michigan, meanwhile, seemed frazzled.
In the span of two minutes, juniors Derrick Walton Jr. and Irvin each missed layups that could have closed a seven-point deficit with 5:39 to go.
The Badgers called timeout to regroup, responding with 3s from Koenig and Brown to keep the lead at double digits for most of the rest of the way.
Wisconsin also had a 33-20 edge in rebounding
"It was a game of rebounding. They got those long rebounds at the end. Their defense -- the 50-50 balls -- they were getting all of them," Beilein said.
Michigan: Beilein's club finished 4-6 on the road this season. ... The Wolverines won the previous meeting between the two teams in Madison, 77-70 on Jan. 18, 2014.
Wisconsin: Koenig set a school record by hitting a 3-pointer in his 40th consecutive game. ... The team's lone senior, former walk-on Jordan Smith, was honored in a pregame ceremony. Smith received loud applause from the student section after entering the game with 34 seconds left. ... The Badgers finished 13-5 at home.
Michigan hosts No. 8 Iowa in its regular-season finale on Saturday.
Wisconsin visits Minnesota on Wednesday.