By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 18, 2014
MADISON — The last time the Michigan men’s basketball team won a game at Wisconsin, sophomore guard Nik Stauskas was five years old. On Saturday, the 20-year-old helped the Wolverines with 23 points to give them their first win in the Kohl Center since 1999.
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Michigan (5-0 Big Ten, 13-4 overall) controlled the game early on, but the Badgers never let the Wolverines get too far ahead. But an early second-half Michigan surge was too much for No. 3 Wisconsin to overcome in the 77-70 loss.
The Wolverines took the lead at the 18:22 mark in the first half, and they never relinquished it. The Badgers (3-2, 16-2) fought back late in the second half, when they quickly whittled a 15-point deficit down to one. But a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Nik Stauskas forced Wisconsin to foul, and Michigan closed the game out from the free-throw line.
After letting Wisconsin get on the board first with two free throws, the Wolverines went on a 7-2 run. Sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III hit a jump shot to give Michigan its first points, and then LeVert found fifth-year senior Jon Horford for an alley-oop dunk. After a missed Badger 3-pointer, Stauskas made his own 3-point attempt on the other end, one of four treys the Wolverines made in the half.
“(Wisconsin) plays such efficient basketball,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “You have to shoot like we did tonight in order to win.”
Michigan shot nearly 55 percent from the field, but the Badgers never fell too far behind. The memory of last year’s game in Madison proved that — guard Ben Brust sent the game into overtime with a half-court heave and Wisconsin went onto win. Beilein said he didn’t breathe a sigh of relief until the final buzzer.
Michigan pushed its lead to 10 when Robinson drained two shots from the charity stripe, forcing the Badgers to pick up their tempo. Brust and fellow guard Josh Gasser kept Wisconsin in the game, going 3-for-3 and 2-for-3, respectively, from beyond the arc in the first half. The sharp-shooting guards helped cut the lead to three, but the Wolverines kept executing on offense and took a 43-38 lead into the second half.
Michigan came out of the locker room strong — something its struggled to do in competitive games on the road.
“We shored up some defensive things because they made that run (at the end of the first half),” Beilein said. “They can score six points so quickly, and as they made their little runs we had to understand defensively they’re very good at this and we got to be really good at taking 50-50 shots, not making 50-50 plays.”
Stauskas and LeVert both knocked down 3-pointers midway through the half. A Michigan jump shot on the next possession gave the Wolverines their largest lead of the game at 59-44.
But Wisconsin doesn’t give away games on their home court; the Badgers are 191-19 at Kohl Center under coach Bo Ryan.
Coming out of a media timeout after the seven-minute mark, the Badgers woke up. After a missed LeVert jumper, Gasser knocked down a 3-pointer. A LeVert turnover led to a layup for 7-foot forward Frank Kaminsky, and after another Wisconsin basket, the big man proved he could shoot too, knocking down a 3-pointer from straightaway. A 15-point Michigan lead had suddenly shriveled into just a one-point margin.
LeVert — who finished with 20 points — and Stauskas each missed three shots in the final seven minutes, but Stauskas kept shooting.
“They were kind of just giving us that open shot,” Stauskas said. “When they leave you wide open, you kind of start hesitating, and that’s what I started doing. I started missing a lot, but my teammates just gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and I was able to knock down a few shots late in the game.”
The sophomore drained a 3-pointer with less than a minute left to put Michigan up by four. The shot — Stauskas’s third of the game from beyond the arc — forced the Badgers to foul. He went to the line three times in the last 24 seconds and made each of his six free throws to send Michigan on its way to its best start in Big Ten play since 2003.