Badgers spoil golden opportunity to join top ranks of Big Ten

first_imgEVANSTON, Ill. — After completing its Big Ten “bye week,” it appeared as though Wisconsin would be able to control its own destiny in regards to the Big Ten title.With just four games remaining on the Badgers’ schedule going into Thursday night, it could have been argued the game with Northwestern would be their most important.While Wisconsin does end the season by traveling to both No. 16 Michigan State and No. 22 Iowa, it first needed a victory in Evanston to be in good position to contest for at least a share of the Big Ten title.However, the conference-bottom-feeding Wildcats had plans to play spoiler and throw a wrench in the Badgers’ title hopes.Heading into the matchup, Wisconsin knew the Welsh-Ryan Arena would be a rather hostile environment despite the mere attendance of 6,119 — many of whom were also Badger fans.The team also knew Big Ten leading scorer Vedran Vukusic would be the man to put most of its defensive efforts upon.Vukusic finished the game with a solid effort, scoring 13 points and grabbing five rebounds, but it was Mohamed Hachad who really gave Wisconsin its problems on defense, as he simply could not be stopped.With a career-high 25 points — highlighted by a backdoor cut and emphatic dunk over Michael Flowers — Hachad led the Wildcats to a 62-51 victory over Wisconsin and made the Badgers’ Big Ten title hopes just a little bit harder.With the disappointing loss, Wisconsin must now hope for some help from other conference teams in the final two weeks of the regular season if it hopes to stay alive in the Big Ten race.The Badgers are currently tied with Illinois for second in the Big Ten at 8-5, one full game behind conference leaders Iowa and Ohio State.Wisconsin hopes its last game of the season versus Iowa will be the deciding factor for the title, but if Ohio State takes care of business versus its remaining three rather mediocre opponents — Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue — then the Badgers will have to settle for a second-place tie.But regardless of how the conference race turns out, Wisconsin blew a prime opportunity to jump ahead of the pack Thursday — and much of the team knows it.”We had a chance to be at the top of the Big Ten if we would’ve came in and won, but our backs are against the wall right now, and now we have to rely on other teams losing,” guard Kammron Taylor said. “From here on out, it’s do or die.”Simply put, the Badgers played as if the game had no Big Ten title implications whatsoever.”For a chance to be in first place and to play how we played, we didn’t play like a team that was vying for first place,” Kammron Taylor said.Just before the off week, Wisconsin was on a roll, winning three-straight games after snapping a horrid funk in the month of January which included a glaring loss to North Dakota State.With the team red-hot following a 78-73 home upset over No. 12 Ohio State and two victories beforehand, the off week may now be seen as the reason the winning streak came to an abrupt end Thursday.”It kind of took us out of rhythm a little bit,” Butch said of the team’s time off.”We weren’t clicking,” he added. “We weren’t playing like we usually play.”But now putting the loss quickly behind them, the Badgers return home Sunday for their final home game and will attempt to get back on track again.”We’re just going to have to bounce back in practice and get ready for Minnesota on Sunday,” Taylor said.Despite Wisconsin’s now-dimming chances for a conference title, there’s no doubt it still has a shot in the tough Big Ten — and it all starts with Sunday’s game versus the Golden Gophers.”We just got to be ready to go out on Sunday now,” Butch said. “We still got a chance here. The big thing is just [to] keep on trying to plug along, keep on getting some wins here, and look at the next game. … We got to put this one behind us.”last_img read more

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