MADISON — The Michigan men’s basketball team entered Wednesday’s game against Wisconsin with its eye on a few streaks.
The Wolverines looked to add a third-straight win and turn their recent stretch into an official win streak.
They wanted to break the Badgers’ decade-long win streak in the Kohl Center, which would mean Michigan’s first victory in Madison since 1999.
And perhaps most important, the Wolverines wanted to keep No. 18 Wisconsin on a cold streak, especially after the Badgers couldn’t score in the first five minutes of the game.
But Michigan’s last five minutes mirrored Wisconsin’s icy start, and the Badgers rode a 15-5 run in the game’s final stretch to beat the Wolverines 54-48. Suddenly, Michigan’s potential win streak morphed into a gut-wrenching loss.
At the end of the night, it didn’t matter that Michigan had an 11-point lead over Wisconsin twice during the game. It didn’t matter that senior forward DeShawn Sims had a monster 23-point, 13-rebound performance. And it didn’t matter that the Wolverines outplayed a tough, talented, nationally-ranked Badger squad for 35 minutes.
“We’ve been here before, on the road and hanging with a good team,” freshman guard Darius Morris said after the game. “Really, we’re over the moral victories. We need to get these wins. That’s basically it.”
In other words, victories — even those that coaches call “moral” victories — don’t end with players sitting still in a silent postgame locker room with their heads in their hands.
“With four minutes to go, we’re leading the game and we can win the game,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.
And that’s perhaps the most painful part for the Wolverines (3-3 Big Ten, 10-8 overall). They led the Badgers (5-2, 15-4) from the first moments of the game until Wisconsin took its first lead with just 3:07 remaining in the contest.
But that was all the Badgers needed.
“They slowly chipped away at the lead,” Morris said. “We had control, but slowly they took it their way. By the time they took it their way, it just was too late for us to do anything about it.”
The Wolverines certainly tried, though. Beilein called a couple of timeouts late in the game to calm down his squad. He attempted to relax a team that appeared to tense up as the Kohl Center crowd roared itself back to life. His message was simple.
“One timeout was, ‘This is where we really have to hunker down and play defense,’ ” Beilein said. “Then, I’m looking them in the eyes and saying, ‘When are you going to step up and make an open shot now?’ Because all of the sudden, we went dry, and it just never happened.”
Basketball is a streaky sport, and Michigan’s ice-cold stretch came at the worst time. During the game’s final five minutes, the Wolverines made just one basket, and missed nine.
“In every game, there are those spells,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said after the game.
He was lucky his team’s spell came early, and he was lucky his team knew how to get out of its funk. Ryan’s teams are good at that — they’re 131-10 at the Kohl Center during his tenure.
“They don’t beat themselves, and they didn’t beat themselves today,” Beilein said.
Teams like that keep streaks alive.