December 24, 2008

UW falls short at home against Longhorns

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin had just forced Texas forward Damion James into committing his third turnover of the night leading to the final media timeout of the game. With two minutes and 51 seconds remaining in the game, the Badgers had the ball and a slim one-point lead. The script was in place for another huge Wisconsin win at the Kohl Center, but this time, it was unable to finish.

Coming out of the timeout, UW senior Joe Krabbenhoft picked up his dribble near mid-court and attempted the handoff to teammate Trevon Hughes. However, Texas guard Dogus Balbay stepped in between the two Badger players, stole the ball and glided in for an easy lay-up, his only bucket of the night, to give the Longhorns a lead it would not relinquish as it went on for a 74-69 win.

"It just keeps getting replayed in my mind and it doesn't stop," a downtrodden Krabbenhoft said in regards to UW's last and fatal turnover. "I just can't figure out why I would do that. There's no excuse for it. I'm a senior. I've been in big games and handled the ball. I take 100 percent responsibility for it."

That botched exchange was only the Badgers second turnover of the second half and tenth overall, but it could not have come at a worse time. Before the media timeout, Jason Bohannon drilled an open three to give UW a one-point edge.

Then, on the other side of the ball, the UW defense surrounded James, who finished with 18 points and 15 rebounds, and forced him to dribble out of bounds.

"We executed well (and) our shots were falling," UW guard Trevon Hughes, whose 18 points led the Badgers, said. "We made plays, but they obviously made more plays than us. We were there, we tasted it, but we couldn't get it done."

In a game that featured 13 lead changes and 10 ties, it was the relentless Longhorns trio of James, A.J. Abrams and Gary Johnson that refused to let Texas lose for the second consecutive year to the Badgers. In total, those three players scored 55 of UT's 74 points.

It seemed every time UW would make a big shot, one of those three would answer. None more important than Johnson's banked-in jumper that gave Texas a three-point lead with just over 20 seconds to play.

"We had our chance," UW head coach Bo Ryan said following the game. "And it just goes to show you other teams can bank shots too. We are not the only one."

Still, in front of the season's first rowdy Kohl Center crowd, the Badgers had a chance to tie it up and force an extra overtime period. However, Hughes' penetration, pump fake and attempt at drawing a foul was blocked by James, virtually eliminating any hope of another dramatic finish for UW.

"Definitely good defense on their part," Hughes said. "I tired to draw the contact, he (James) saw it and he jumped back. He has long arms and that's basically his athleticism."

Early in the game, it was really a showcase of both team's guards as Hughes started with 13 quick points while Abrams had 12 of his own. In the end, Texas' cat-quick Abrams finished with a game high 21 points on 8-for-21 shooting. He drilled 3-of-7 shots from downtown and played the entire game without any rest.

"It was a great atmosphere," Abrams said. "The crowd was loud, we kind of expected it just from watching them on TV and everything and we knew it was just a great atmosphere to play in. But we knew coming off our last game, we needed to come in here and correct the things we didn't do well.

"We wanted to come in here and just execute and I think we did a pretty good job of it tonight."

The Badgers had to play most of the game without the services of its leading scorer Marcus Landry as he was in foul trouble from the start. The senior finished with eight points, but never got into the flow of the game.

Landry was replaced by Jon Leuer, who once again impressed off the bench by scoring eight key points, but Landry's leadership was lacking down the stretch.

"You get fouls, you go to the bench," Ryan said. "It has been a part of the game from the beginning. That sounds like a cop-out if you say, 'Oh, well if we had marcus on the floor...'

"Our last two losses, Marcus has been on the bench quite a bit with fouls. But, then do not get to the bench with fouls. Or have teammates making sure that we are picking up for them and that is just the way it is."

UW used this game as a springboard into conference play a season ago, but this year, it came up on the wrong end of a hard-fought contest. Now, with time off upcoming for the holidays, the Badgers will look to fix its downfalls before it heads to Michigan for the Big 10 opener.

"I wouldn't say there is anything missing," Bohannon, who finished with 16 points said. "We got tons of potential there. We've been playing well, we just haven't pulled out a couple of those victories there. We just got to keep getting better and that's what coach Ryan is going to do with us. I wouldn't say there's necessarily something missing with this team right now."

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