For the second straight season the UW men’s basketball team exited the NCAA Tournament prematurely after losing to a lower-seeded team. But all that this team accomplished this season was not lost in the disappointed and depressed UW locker room at Ford Field in Detroit, Mich.
From game-winning shots, to bank shots, to Big Ten titles, here’s a look back on the winningest season in Wisconsin basketball history:
Questions from the start
The obvious question before the season was how the Badgers were going to replace departed seniors Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor and Jason Chappell, who accounted for 52 percent of the team’s scoring the year before. The question no one was expecting to answer early in the year was: Will senior Michael Flowers play?
Flowers, UW’s top returning defender, took a mysterious leave of absence at the beginning of the season and there was no indication whether or not he would return to the team. But he returned just as mysteriously as he left, appearing at practice before the team’s season opener against IPFW. He came off the bench in UW’s first seven games before returning to the starting lineup permanently against Marquette on Dec. 8.
Hughes hot early
No one really knew who the team’s leading scorer would be entering this season, but sophomore Trevon Hughes tried to be the answer to that question in the season opener against IPFW Nov. 11, scoring 25 points on 9-of-17 shooting.
He followed that up with 21 points against Savannah State, 15 against Florida A&M and 18 against Colorado, and was named tournament MVP in the America’s Youth Classic hosted by UW in November.
Duked by the Blue Devils
Badger fans saw the first indication that Hughes was not going to be an instant star when Wisconsin traveled to Duke and suffered a 82-58 loss. The sophomore still managed 12 points but made only 4-of-13 shots and turned the ball over three times in 26 minutes of play.
It was a wake-up call for a team that cruised to a 5-0 start before the trip to Durham.
Shot of the year
After a setback at home to Marquette Dec. 8 and three more wins, UW traveled to Texas to finish off the non-conference schedule. The unranked Badgers were going up against the No. 9 Longhorns and, to make matters worse, they lost Hughes to an ankle injury the night before the game.
Little did they know that this Saturday matinée was going to be the defining game in a season no one was expecting. Trailing by three in the final minute, Marcus Landry hit a turnaround jumper on the baseline to cut the deficit to one. After A.J. Abrams made 1-of-2 free throws, Flowers came off a Brian Butch screen and hit a 3-pointer that jumpstarted an unlikely, record-breaking season.
Did he call it?
If Flowers jumpstarted the season, then Butch probably saved it—at least from a Big Ten title standpoint. Just days after falling to Purdue for the second time on the year, UW traveled to Indiana Feb. 13 needing a win badly to salvage its chances at a conference title.
Down 66-65 with 12 seconds left, Butch found himself with the ball after UW inbounded it. He briefly looked to pass and then threw up a deep three from the left wing that kissed off the glass and fell in. When Jamarcus Ellis’ three at the buzzer fell short, the Badgers found themselves right back in the middle of the Big Ten race and Indiana found itself in the middle of a recruiting scandal that cost head coach Kelvin Sampson his job, and the Hoosiers its season. Butch might not have called “glass” but his shot sent two teams in two different directions.
Senior night and so much more
The Indiana win turned out to be the first of five in a row as Wisconsin played its last game of the season in the Kohl Center against Penn State on Senior Night Feb. 5. With Ohio State’s upset over Purdue the night before, the Badgers knew that a win over the Nittany Lions meant at least a share of the Big Ten title.
They showed absolutely no signs of jitters and crushed Penn State 77-41 as the students rushed the court to celebrate UW’s first conference title since 2003. All four seniors were hoisted on the shoulders of the mob and the Badgers made it an outright title just three days later, beating Northwestern 65-52 in Evanston, Ill.
An up-and-down finish
Wisconsin took its seven-game win streak to Indianapolis and made it a 10-game streak as it won the Big Ten Tournament. The weekend included a 12-point comeback against Michigan State in the semi-finals before topping Illinois in the championship.
Expecting to be rewarded with a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin was stuck with a No. 3 seed and knew that it would face either USC’s O.J. Mayo or Kansas State’s Michael Beasley in the second round. It turned out to be Beasley, but in one of the team’s best performances of the year, the Badgers dispatched the Wildcats easily with a 72-55 win.
With Davidson upsetting Georgetown a day later, it looked like UW’s road to the Final Four got a little bit easier, but in the most surprising loss of the season Davidson outscored Wisconsin 37-20 in the second half en-route to a 73-56 win. It was the first time the Badgers were outplayed that badly since the Duke loss in the November. The loss was disappointing but the reality is that the 2007-’08 Badgers won 31-games, a school record, a Big Ten title and a Big Ten Tournament title.