Does anyone still think Wisconsin will finish near bottom of the Big Ten this season?
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard learned a lot about his team against #3 Kansas on Thursday in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, The Bahamas.
Unranked UW, picked ninth in the Big Ten preseason poll, trailed by 15 points to start the second half and eight at the end of regulation before returning to force overtime against the defending national champion.
Wisconsin took the last lead of the game on a Tyler Wahl field goal, but backup guard Bobby Pettiford caught a loose ball on a missed three-pointer and scored at the buzzer to give the Jayhawks a stunning 69-68 victory.
box score: Kansas 69, Wisconsin 68 (OT)
Related:Badgers struggle to score but beat Dayton in Battle 4 Atlantis
“We don’t like moral victories,” said Gard, “but this group showed me a lot today. We also learned that we have a lot of things we can keep improving on.
“And these are the kinds of experiences you want at the start of the year. You obviously want different outcomes but the determination and grit and willingness to keep fighting and come back. … We just need to be able to string together more pieces of time playing at a high level”.
Kansas (6-0) extended its overall hitting streak to 17 games, dating back to last season when the Jayhawks won the national title.
“We weren’t the best team today,” said Kansas head coach Bill Self. “But we made some plays and they let us win.”
UW (4-1) plays its third-place game Friday at noon against USC. The Trojans (4-2) suffered a 73-66 overtime loss to #22 Tennessee in the second semifinal.
Wahl led UW late in regulation and overtime and finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Connor Essegian hit 6 of 12 shots and added 17 points but could not stop Pettiford on the final possession. Max Klesmit added 13 for UW.
Starters Chucky Hepburn (six points) and Steven Crowl (four points) combined to make just 4 of 15 shots.
Jalen Wilson had 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Kevin McCullar added 18 points for Kansas.
UW trailed by 13 points at halftime, by 15 going into the second half and by eight with 3:38 left in regulation.
Gard’s team fought back and had a chance to win at the end of regulation and in overtime, but Kansas survived both times by grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring.
Zach Clemence rebounded his missed triple and passed out to McCullar, who hit a game-tying triple with 12 seconds left in regulation. Replays showed that Clemence’s right foot went out of bounds before he passed the ball out again.
However, Hepburn could have blocked the loose ball before it went out of bounds and then missed a jumper on UW’s next possession.
“We have to pick up that last rebound,” Gard said.
The Badgers failed to score on their first four overtime possessions, with three errors and a turnover.
Trailing 65-63, UW called a timeout with 2:03 left.
Wahl got into the lane and missed, but grabbed the rebound and scored and was fouled with 1:35 left. He hit the free throw to give UW a 66-65 lead.
Wilson was fouled with 1:15 left and made both free throws for a 67-66 lead.
Wahl missed a three-pointer, but pulled off a steal and UW called a timeout with 26 seconds left on the shot clock and 26.5 on the game clock.
Wahl lane scored with 20 seconds left to give UW the lead, 68-67.
Kansas timed out with 16.3 seconds left.
“That’s the kind of player he is,” Gard said of Wahl. “He’s one of the best players in our league and in the country. …He’s come back and made great plays for us down the stretch. We’re not in that position with two opportunities on the last possession to grab that, if not for him.
“I thought we had other guys on the pitch who helped us fight back. He’s part of it, but other guys have also come forward and created some energy for us as well.”
UW played outstanding defense on their final possession and forced Clemence to miss a three-pointer, but Wahl, with Wilson on his back, was unable to secure the rebound.
The ball deflected out of Wahl’s hands and appeared to be heading out of bounds. However, Pettiford sprinted from beyond the three-point line on the left wing and snuck inside Essegian under the basket. When the ball broke free, Pettiford grabbed it and scored on a reverse lay-in to beat the buzzer and dunk UW.
The shot was the only one taken by Pettiford, in 19 minutes.
“Once he shot,” he said, “I just ran full speed ahead, the ball dropped into my hands and I just threw something and it went in. … It was a bit of luck and skill at the same time . “
While all the Badgers did well, including rallying to force overtime, they allowed 11 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
The Jayhawks had three rebounding points at the end of regulation and the game-winning field goal at the end of overtime.
“The last play of regulation and overtime will have the spotlight on them,” Gard said, “but there are so many plays in 69 possessions, so many things that if we could have done better here or there we would have had a different result. …
“A lot of things we’ve done well on defense, but (also) the things as we look through this tape and learn from it (must) help propel us forward.”