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Wisconsin hands No. 2 Michigan first loss of the season

Purdue Wisconsin Basketball

Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (22) shoots next to Purdue’s Matt Haarms (32) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Madison, Wis. Purdue won 84-80 in overtime. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)


And then there was one.

Ethan Happ finished with 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and a pair of steals as Wisconsin handed No. 2 Michigan their first loss of the season, 64-54, in the Kohl Center on Saturday after.

Michigan was one of two remaining undefeated teams entering Saturday. The other, No. 4 Virginia, plays at No. 1 Duke on Saturday evening. Michigan’s 17-0 start to the season was the best start in program history.

But this wasn’t necessarily the spot that many predicted Michigan’s first loss to come. The Badgers have not been good of late. They entered Saturday having lost four of their last five games, including a 1-3 stretch in Big Ten play. They scored just 14 first half points against Minnesota. They managed all of 15 first half points against Maryland. A team struggling like that on the offensive floor being asked to take on the Wolverines and the nation’s No. 3 defense was a tall ask.

Happ, however, was up to the challenge.

He was at his all-american best on Saturday, dominating the paint against Michigan’s big front line and setting up his teammates consistently throughout the afternoon when help came. He was responsible for 43 of Wisconsin’s 64 points on Saturday.

Michigan, on the other hand, was never able to find a rhythm offensively, exposing the biggest concern when it comes to their ceiling in the NBAA tournament. Leading scorer Ignas Brazdeikis, playing in the toughest road environment that he has seen in his college career, went scoreless, finishing with three fouls on an 0-for-5 afternoon where he didn’t get to the foul line a single time. Charles Matthews did not score until midway through the second half and finished with just five points.

Jordan Poole did manage to score 14 points, but he committed three turnovers and shot 6-for-15 from the floor; just three of his 14 points came after halftime, as the Badgers asserted their will on the game.

Overall, however, I don’t think there is much more to take away than that.

Michigan is going to be in trouble on the nights where their three best offensive weapons play like the worst version of themselves, and in hindsight, that happening against this Wisconsin team in that building in a must-win game was something we should have seen coming. No one likes losing, but we knew Michigan wasn’t going to go undefeated. This moment was inevitable for the Wolverines.

Which is why I believe this result says so much more about the Badgers.

While John Beilein’s team has rolled through everyone they faced this season, Wisconsin has not looked like the team that had crept into the top 15 at one point in December. They needed this win, not just for their resume, but for their confidence. Remember, this group went just 15-18 last season. They had a stretch where the lost seven of nine in non-conference play and lost eight of nine during another stretch in league play.

This was a ‘prove it’ game for the Badgers, and they did just that.