Smothering, will-breaking … that’s what Michigan’s defense has become in year two under Juwan Howard, and Wisconsin was on the receiving end in a 77-54 beating that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score.
That alone is saying something given the Badgers came in as the nation’s No. 9 team. Michigan used a 36-3 run to run Wisconsin out of the gym and led by as many as 40 points, the last time at 69-29, before taking a foot off the pedal.
What looked like it would be a great game, 26-23 with six minutes remaining in the half, turned into a laugher. U-M scored the last 14 points of the half and, after an Aleem Ford three-point play to start the second half, ripped off 22 straight to put it away.
“They came out with a lot of energy, a lot of fight. They came out aggressive and we kind of got pushed back on our heels,” guard D’Mitrik Trice said. “We never responded the correct way and the way that we wanted to.”
Michigan’s length was a problem for the Badgers all night. Head coach Greg Gard wasn’t pleased that his players failed to go off two feet as taught, though every shot was contested either way; nor did he like how his team settled for jump shots when the game started slipping away.
The Wolverines never relented, and Wisconsin’s five-senior starting lineup that usually doesn’t get fazed was a hot mess for 20 minutes or so before rallying at the end.
“They pressure the ball really well,” Trice said. “They get in passing lanes, they get steals; they make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, and I think they did a great job of doing that throughout the whole entire game.”
Trice scored 20 points, but Wisconsin shot only 30.8 percent from the field. The stat of the game — guard Brad Davison went minus-34 in only 25 minutes played, scoring only two points.
“I’ve seen them do that to teams time and time again,” Gard said. “We talked about it. You try not to put yourself in those positions, but also how do you respond to it? And that’s the disappointing thing is how we responded to it … not only there at the end of the first half, but also the start of the second half.
They weren’t aggressive enough, he said, noting they only had six fouls. Michigan took the fight to his team and never relented.
“When you get down by that much, it’s just about inching back and winning every four minutes,” Trice said. “I think the guys that were out there, especially toward the end of the game, really put some fight out there and put some heart into it. But obviously, we have to do that for 40 minutes or you can be down 40.”
“They were able to put us on our heels. We responded better once the game was out of hand, I thought we got back to being a little more of ourselves, but that flurry towards the middle and end of the first half and then into the second half, I did not like how we responded in terms of their aggressiveness. They put us on our heels, and we weren’t able to respond how we needed to respond to it.”
As a result, the Wolverines remained undefeated and solidified their spot at the top of the Big Ten standings.