MADISON – Michigan couldn’t have hoped for a better start in its attempt to upset No. 2 Wisconsin.
A 9-0 lead.
Wisconsin star Alando Tucker sidelined with foul trouble.
But it didn’t matter.
What started as a dream quickly turned into a nightmare for Michigan at the Kohl Center. The Badgers responded to the Wolverines’ opening jab with a knockout punch en route to a 71-58 win that left the Badgers in first place in the Big Ten.
“I don’t know (why the wheels came off),” Michigan center Courtney Sims said. “We started just turning over the ball.”
Michigan committed 12 first-half turnovers, allowing Wisconsin to take a 33-26 lead at the break.
It got uglier from there.
The Badgers built a 24-point second-half lead on the way to their 16th straight victory.
Michigan committed seven more turnovers for a total of 19 compared to just 11 assists.
Forward Brent Petway fouled out in just 12 minutes of action and received a technical foul on his way to the bench.
Sophomore Jerret Smith was taken down (and stayed down) on a screen that his teammates failed to warn him about.
And the Badgers student section serenaded the Wolverines to chants of “NIT.”
Wisconsin (6-0 Big Ten, 20-1 overall) opened the second half with three straight scores thanks to the return of Tucker. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year scored in the post and off an inbound feed for four of his 13 second-half points.
Then Tucker took a rebound coast-to-coast to set up Brian Butch for a lay-up, opening up a double-digit lead.
“Obviously, with Tucker, they are something special,” Michigan coach Tommy Amaker said.
Butch was a problem for Michigan all night. He led the way for Wisconsin with seven points in the first half while Tucker sat out. Butch continued taking it to the Wolverine defense in the second half, outmaneuvering Petway in the short time the Michigan senior was on the floor.
“It’s tough to cover a big man who can step out and shoot the jumpshot,” Petway said of Butch, who finished the game with a team-high 16 points (tied with Tucker). “We tried to get up on him defensively, but he did a good job.”
Michigan (4-2, 16-5) got off to its hot start thanks to five points and an assist from point guard Dion Harris. But things fell apart for the Wolverines when Harris picked up his second foul.
Michigan scored just one field goal in a 5:32 span and failed to open up a lead, even though Tucker played just five minutes in the first half.
During the drought, Wisconsin broke open a nine-point advantage. Sims’s nine first-half points, punctuated with back-to-back dunks to finish the stanza, kept the game from getting out of hand at the break. The senior finished with a team-high 16 points but also led the team with seven turnovers.
Despite struggling on offense without Harris, Amaker elected to keep his senior floor leader on the bench for the remainder of the half.
“We didn’t lose control of the basketball game (with Harris out),” Amaker said. “We were able to stay within striking distance without Dion. . I thought that was a good sign going into halftime.”
But Michigan didn’t show any more positive signs after the break. The Wolverines put up little resistance during another road loss – Michigan is 2-4 away from Crisler this season – and now must find a way to regroup for Saturday’s game in Bloomington.
Michigan 58, Wisconsin 71