Does anyone still think Wisconsin is going to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten this season?
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard learned a great deal about his team against No. 3-ranked Kansas on Thursday in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
Unranked UW, picked ninth in the Big Ten preseason poll, trailed by 15 points early in the second half and by eight late in regulation before battling back to force overtime against the defending national champion.
Wisconsin took its last lead of the game on a basket by Tyler Wahl, but reserve guard Bobby Pettiford grabbed a loose ball after 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)
“We’re not into moral victories,” Gard said, “but this group showed me a lot today. We also learned we have a lot of things we can continue to get better at.
“And these are the types of experiences you want early in the year. You obviously want different results but the resolve and the grit and the willingness to keep battling and come back. … We just need to be able to put larger chunks of time together playing at a high level.”
Kansas (6-0) extended its overall winning streak to 17 games, dating to last season when the Jayhawks won the national title.
“We were not the best team today,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But we made some plays and allowed us to win.”
UW (4-1) plays in the third-place game at noon Friday against USC. The Trojans (4-2) suffered a 73-66 overtime loss to No. 22 Tennessee in the second semifinal.
Wahl carried UW late in regulation and in the overtime and finished with 23 points and 10 rebounds. Connor Essegian hit 6 of 12 shots and added 17 points but failed to block out 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 scored 29 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and Kevin McCullar added 18 points for Kansas.
UW trailed by 13 points at halftime, by 15 early in the second half and by eight with 3:38 left in regulation.
Gard’s team battled back and had chances to win at the end of regulation and in the overtime but Kansas survived both times by grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring.
Zach Clemence rebounded his missed three-pointer and passed out to McCullar, who hit a tying three-pointer with 12 seconds left in regulation. Replays showed Clemence’s right foot came down out of bounds before he passed the ball back out.
However, Hepburn could have corralled the loose ball before it went out of bounds and then missed a jumper on UW’s subsequent possession.
“We need to gather up that last rebound,” Gard said.
The Badgers failed to score on their first four possessions in overtime, with three misses and a turnover.
Trailing, 65-63, UW called a timeout with 2:03 left.
Wahl drove into the lane and missed but grabbed the rebound and scored and was fouled with 1:35 left. He made 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 he came up with a steal and UW called a timeout with 26 seconds left on the shot clock and 26.5 on the game clock.
Wahl scored in the lane with 20 seconds left to give UW the lead, 68-67.
Timeout Kansas with 16.3 seconds left.
“That’s the type of player he is,” Gard said of Wahl. “He is one of the best players in our league and in the country. …He came back and made big plays for us down the stretch. We’re not in that position with two opportunities on the last possession to grab that one, if not for him.
“I thought we had other guys on the floor who helped us battle back. He is a part of that but other guys stepped up and created some energy for us as well.”
UW played terrific defense on the final possession and forced a missed three-pointer by Clemence, but Wahl, with Wilson on his back, was unable to secure the rebound.
The ball deflected off Wahl’s hands and appeared to be headed out of bounds. However, Pettiford sprinted from beyond the three-point line on the left wing and sneaked inside Essegian under the basket. When the ball came free, Pettiford grabbed it and scored on a reverse lay-in to beat the buzzer and crush UW.
The shot was the only one Pettiford took, in 19 minutes.
“Once he shot it,” he said, “I just ran full-speed, the ball fell into my hands and I just flicked something up and it went in. … It was a little bit of luck and skill at the same time.”
For all the Badgers did well, including rallying to force overtime, they allowed 11 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
The Jayhawks got three points on the rebound at the end of regulation and the game-winning basket at the end of the overtime.
“The last play of regulation and overtime will have a spotlight on them,” Gard said, “but there’s so many plays within 69 possessions, so many things that if we could have done better here or there we would have had a different outcome….
“A lot of things we did well defensively, but (also) things as we look through this tape and learn from it (has) got to help propel us forward.”