MADISON, Wis. — They call it an “elevator” screen. It was installed in Wisconsin’s offense just two days ago — though the Badgers had used it occasionally last season — and that was the play Greg Gard decided to run for his senior point guard, Bronson Koenig, with the game tied at 49.

Michigan wasn’t expecting the call. John Beilein said as much after the game when he admitted he hadn’t seen the play on film.

And the Wolverines’ lack of preparation showed: Duncan Robinson, Derrick Walton Jr. and Moritz Wagner could only watch Koenig’s shot, hands outstretched helplessly, as they were screened behind a trio of Badgers.

Was there ever any question that Koenig would drain the shot? At this arena, in front of this crowd, against a program that was just 1-12 its past 13 games here?

The Wisconsin bench would say no — they rose, hands in the air, before the shot had even traveled halfway to the basket.

It was the biggest shot in a game full of them, giving the home team a lead it would not give up. The play summed up Michigan’s defensive effort, as well: improved, but not quite there yet.

Through the first five games of conference play, Michigan’s defense had sunk to new lows, allowing opponents to shoot over 50 percent on both twos and threes.

Yet, after the first 27 minutes, the Wolverines looked like a different team on defense.

They limited missed assignments and made defensive rotations on time. A feat that they couldn’t claim in any of the previous five games. They kept Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes quiet. They harassed Ethan Happ and held him to 11 points on 13 shots and 3 turnovers. And then, most impressively, they translated that effort into success on the other end, going on a 17-2 run early in the second half after scoring just two points in the final 7:11 of the first half.

“… We didn’t really care about whether we make a run or not,” Wagner said. “For us, what’s important is just to keep getting stops and we know that we going to get going eventually. So we just told ourselves to keep going, keep going and eventually shots will fall.”

The defensive improvement, it seemed, was the cure-all for Michigan’s struggles.

But it disappeared just as soon as it had arrived, leaving the Wolverines at the mercy of Koenig, who had a personal 10-0 run.

“They ran an elevator play to get him open in the middle,” Beilein said. “And then the last one, we’re not supposed to get help off him, and we made that mistake. So you just can’t give him that type of room to get that done.”

Part of the late letdown was because of the foul trouble that Michigan’s big men found themselves in. With 8:16 left, Wilson and Wagner had already picked up their fourth fouls, limiting both their playing time and their aggressiveness on defense when they were in the game.

“… It obviously doesn’t help us,” Wagner said of the foul trouble. “We’ve got to find a way to be physical without fouling, especially in the second half. I think there was a four-minute battle where we just gave up too many easy foul calls in the post and rebounds and stuff like that.”

Foul trouble and unexpected play calls aside, the Wolverines could not get the stops they needed down the stretch. That included a couple possessions when Wisconsin scored after rebounding a missed free throw, an inexcusable lapse.

And those late shortcomings, despite the earlier improvement, is what Michigan will be thinking about on its flight back to Ann Arbor.

“…Obviously, they made some tough shots late – (Koenig) got it going, (Hayes) had a shot as well,” Irvin said. “It was those last six minutes where we just got to be able to grow from that.”

  • bobohle

    Anything said about Walton’s injury that he played with near the end of the game? He certainly was hobbled. Some one needs to light a fire under Donnal. I can’t figure how Zak can be in a great stretch one minute then goes into a funk the next stretch. A Senior should be way more consistant. Defensively overall thought M played their best game of the season. Hope it continues. We’re going to half to win a few road games and beat either MSU,Purdue or Wisc (when we play them in A2) to be in any conversation for post season.Otherwise win the B1G tourney.

    • A2MIKE

      I think we have to win EVERY home game left on the schedule, maybe can afford to lose 1. Probably have to get to 10 wins in conference, currently sitting at 2-4. If we win 5 of the 6 home games that means we have to win 3 of 6 road games against Indiana, Michigan State, Rutgers, Northwestern, Nebraska and Minnesota. We will be for sure underdogs in 4 of the 6 and a coin flip against Nebraska. Tough road.

  • Wayman Britt

    Some people will think this is too harsh or have lower expectations for UM, but how can over the last 10 to 15 years Wisconsin’s basketball program be so superior to UM’s:

    1. Does UW have greater facilities than UM?
    2. Does UW have more money and get greater donations than UM?
    3. Is UW a more prestige and academically higher institution than UM?
    4. Do top 75 recruits just knock down the door to go to Madison vs. Ann Arbor?
    5. Does UW have superior basketball coaches over UM?
    6. Does the state of Wisconsin have such great basketball talent that all they have to do is just offer and they will come?
    7. Does UW have a superior alumni and better followers than UM?

    I don’t expect UM to be at the same level as Kentucky, Duke or NC, but the program should be at least close to the University of Wisconsin.

    • What program in the Big Ten has been better than Wisconsin over the past 10 to 15 years?

      • Wayman Britt

        I am not saying UM should be better, but they should be a lot closer than they are.

      • AA7596

        None, but I doubt they’ve all gone 2-18.

        The point is the gap between the two programs. It’s wide, and at this point there aren’t any good excuses for that.

      • tenzin

        MSU?

    • ChathaM

      4. Do top 75 recruits just knock down the door to go to Madison vs. Ann Arbor?

      No, they don’t. I looked at the ESPN top 100 from 2016 back to 2007, and in that 10 year stretch, we have had 8 top 75 players come to Ann Arbor. UW has had one top 75 player come to Madison. I believe the main reason that UW has been so successful is that Bo Ryan was a great coach, with a great system for developing players. Gard is continuing the tradition with Bo’s players, but it’s not like any of them were top 75 recruits, so he clearly knows what he’s doing as well.