Wisconsin's 2nd-half drought leads to 71-56 loss to Michigan
WASHINGTON (AP) Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes sensed this Big Ten Tournament might turn out the way it did.
When the senior forward heard what happened to fellow conference member Michigan on its way to the nation's capital - an abandoned takeoff; airplane skidding through a fence; trip delayed until the morning of the Wolverines' first tourney game - he told his teammates on No. 24 Wisconsin about his inkling.
''I was like, `I think they're going to play a lot better because of that. Because now they have this, like, `We almost died' type of thing. So anything they're worried about - playing well or trying to do this, trying to win the championship, trying to make the NCAA Tournament - is kind of taking a back seat to the fact that they have life,'' Hayes recalled. ''So I think they're playing probably more relaxed and looser. It's probably a blessing in disguise for them.''
As it turned out, Hayes was exactly right. The Badgers showed strong signs of recovering from their late-season swoon until the second half of Sunday's Big Ten title game, when No. 2 seed Wisconsin fell apart on offense en route to a 71-56 loss to No. 8 seed Michigan.
Bronson Koenig led Wisconsin with 15 points, but only two after halftime. Hayes and Ethan Happ each had 14.
Derrick Walton Jr. scored 22 for Michigan (24-11)
The Badgers (25-9) settled for their fourth runner-up performance in the league tournament - and the knowledge that, yes, they are capable of playing better than they did while losing five of six games down the stretch this season.
Before tipoff, both teams knew they would be heading to the NCAA Tournament, win or lose. It was more a matter of seeding and site for the Big Dance. The Big Ten final ended about a half hour before the start of the Selection Sunday TV broadcast.
Wisconsin entered having won three consecutive games, including Big Ten Tournament victories in which they held Indiana to 60 points in the quarterfinals, and Northwestern to 48 in the semifinals.
But that tremendous defense for which Wisconsin is known could not quite stifle Michigan enough to overcome some shaky shooting by the Badgers, who finished at 39.3 percent on field-goal tries.
Still, Koenig's 3 just before the buzzer brought cut Wisconsin's deficit to 33-32 at halftime.
Everything really came unglued for Wisconsin's offense at the beginning of the second half. Its first field goal arrived after more than 8 minutes on a basket by Happ; until then, the Badgers were shooting 0 for 8 and had four turnovers.
That drought, accompanied by a raucous soundtrack of ''Let's go, Blue!'' from the Michigan fans in the arena, helped the Wolverines build a lead that was too big for Wisconsin to overcome.
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