In the Badgers first two possessions Thursday night, what seemed like reason for optimism actually served as a grim foreshadowing of what was to come.
On each of UW's first two trips, Wisconsin worked the ball into the post and got good looks from senior forward Jon Leuer. He missed each, but usually going inside ensures some level of consistency.
Not on this night.
Wisconsin fell behind early and looked flustered throughout. It was a bad shooting night from its two top scorers until late in the second half, but Butler opened up a commanding lead and held on late to top UW 61-54 and end the Badgers' season.
The Bulldogs will face Florida Saturday night for a trip to the Final Four.
Wisconsin caught fire late and trimmed what was a 20-point gap to just four with 1:38 remaining when junior guard Jordan Taylor hit a three. The junior finished the night with 22 points on 6-19 shooting (3-10 three-point attempts).
However, before the late-game frenzy, UW's offense was lethargic at best.
Leuer frequently caught the ball in the post, but where the First Team All-Big Ten performer usually converts on a near-automatic basis, he found unfriendly results with Butler.
The Orono, Minn. native finished the game with an ugly 1-12 mark from the field (1-6 on three-point attempts) and three points.
"Overall, if you look at a shot chart, I like most of the shots we got," Ryan said. "At some point, you just have to make some of them."
Leuer certainly was not alone in his struggles, though.
In one stretch that spanned the final portion of the first half and beginning of the second half, Wisconsin went 10:05 without a field goal.
"We touched the ball in the post four out of five times [to start the second half] and came up with nothing," Ryan said.
Junior point guard Jordan Taylor—who struggled shooting in a 2-of-16 performance last Saturday against Kansas State—added carelessness with the basketball to shooting woes against Butler.
The point guard, despite his astounding numbers when it comes to protecting the ball—he entered the game leading the NCAA in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.18—was credited with two turnovers in the first half and generally forced the issue on the offensive end.
"We made [poor] plays that are uncharacteristic of how we play," Leuer said. "We tried to force some things offensively … and just did some things [we] normally don't."
Butler capitalized nearly every time UW stumbled and led 33-24 at the half, largely because the Bulldogs outscored UW 15-1 in points off turnovers.
As uncharacteristic as the cough-ups were for Taylor, he also missed four free throws in the first half. Coming into the season, Taylor converted his free throws at an 85 percent clip.
The junior finished the night with 22 points on 6-19 shooting.
The Bulldogs got exceptional play from senior forward Matt Howard, who finished with 20 points. In addition to scoring, he grabbed 12 big rebounds (three offensive) and seemed to track down the ball whenever the situation required it. Howard scored inside and outside and aptly closed out on Wisconsin shooters like senior forward Keaton Nankivil, who scored nine points in his final game as a Badger.
"We just needed to put a few more minutes together here tonight so we could keep dancing," Ryan said. "Unfortunately, the music stopped playing."
As a team, UW shot just 30.4 percent from the field (17-56) and 24.1 percent from beyond the arc (7-29)
The Badgers exceeded expectations this whole this season. Needless to say, though, Thursday's performance fell short.
Let's hope that next year they can go farther. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!