IOWA CITY -- Ruffled colored cards littered Carver-Hawkeye Arena in the aftermath of yet another close Iowa home loss.
The No. 15 Hawkeyes (19-7, 8-5) failed to close out a late lead against No. 18 Wisconsin (22-5, 9-5) in a 79-74 loss. Like those papers from a pregame stunt, Iowa's Big Ten regular-season title hopes are discarded, discolored and dismembered. And to a man, they know they did it to themselves.
"We let a huge opportunity get away," Iowa senior forward Zach McCabe said.
"We just didn’t come out ready to play," Iowa junior guard Josh Oglesby said. "That’s sad because the atmosphere was great. The fans were into it. We didn’t play well."
The atmosphere was electric, loud and gold. Iowa entered the game with their northeast rivals just one game behind Michigan and Michigan State in the loss column. Considering Iowa plays at Michigan State on March 6, the team's season-long goal was attainable. Now, any chance at a Big Ten title is simply a wish.
Iowa's wounds Saturday were self-inflicted, especially in the first half. After Iowa took a 5-0 lead, the Badgers were unstoppable form the outside. With 7:10 left in first half, Wisconsin drilled 14 of 19 shots, including 5 of 8 from 3-point range, to lead 34-24.At that point Iowa had made 11 of 20 and had no turnovers, but it couldn't defend Wisconsin.
That changed quickly in the second half. Iowa started on a 10-3 run to pull within two points. The Hawkeyes forced Wisconsin into a shooting slump. The Badgers missed eight consecutive 3-point attempts and were just 2 of 15 overall during an 11:39 time span.
"They were making shots," Iowa's Devyn Marble said. "They had some good looks. They were making some contested ones, too. We did a better job in the second half of taking 3-pointers away from them and making them do something else."
Iowa twice took a four-point lead late in the second half, the last at 64-60 with 4:27 left. Wisconsin followed with a Josh Gasser 3-pointer to cut its deficit to one. Iowa's Josh Oglesby knocked down pair of jumpers, but the Badgers countered with a pair of three-point plays. Nigel Hayes powered into McCabe, who was called for a blocking foul, sinking the basket and a free throw. After Oglesby's second jumper, Gasser drilled another 3-pointer to push Wisconsin ahead 69-68.
The call wounded McCabe.
"I thought I was there," McCabe said. "I don’t know. I don’t know what I have to do … I can’t talk about it anymore."
The teams traded shots with Jarrod Uthoff scoring on a drive and an Oglesby jumper wrapped around a Bronson Koenig deep jumper. With 32.5 seconds left and 31 ticks left on the shot clock, Iowa called timeout down 73-72. Instead of milking the clock for a final shot, Iowa chose to go to the rim.
Marble drove hard inside but was stopped and stripped. Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky came up with the ball, and was fouled immediately.
"We were trying to get the ball to Whitey (Aaron White), but they kind of played that," said Marble, who scored a team-high 21 points and dished 11 assists. "I thought Whitey had a seal that I could get around and (Kaminsky) just swiped down and I couldn’t go any farther past that."
After Kaminsky knocked down two free throws, Iowa had one more chance. With 24.5 seconds left and trailing 75-72, Iowa had three options. Get the ball to Oglesby, who finished with 17, get the ball to McCabe or let Marble dictate the shot. The ball went to McCabe, but it slipped out of his hands leading to an airball. Wisconsin corralled the rebound and essentially put the game away.
Iowa will sit two games back with five to go in the Big Ten title race after Sunday's Michigan-Michigan State. But more importantly, it was Iowa's third home loss against a ranked opponent in its last four games. Iowa hasn't lost to any opponent by double-digits, but in the last two seasons Iowa is 5-13 in Big Ten games decided by nine points or less. This year, Iowa is 1-5 counting Saturday's loss.
"We let one get away from us," McCabe said. "We’ve got a tough week ahead. Great teams ahead of us. We’ve got to get to work starting tomorrow and we’ve just got to look at film, get better and you’ve got to play with a lot more intensity or it’s going to be a struggle for us the rest of the games."