Feb. 18, Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan
Season record: 16-10 (8-5 Big Ten)
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team is much better than it was when it first crossed paths with Michigan State back in mid-January.
But as Badgers interim coach Greg Gard examined the Spartans while preparing for the rematch, he couldn’t help but notice Tom Izzo’s team was also rounding into shape at the right time of the season.
“Typical Michigan State team,” Gard said earlier this week, “starting to crescendo as the season wears on.”
That showed Thursday night at the Breslin Center, where senior guard Denzel Valentine finished with 24 points and 10 assists to help the No. 8 Spartans roll to a 69-57 victory in a Big Ten Conference game and end the Badgers’ seven-game winning streak.
UW would have been in fourth place in the conference standings with a victory. Instead, the Badgers (16-10, 8-5 Big Ten) fell into eighth place, 2½ games behind co-leaders Indiana and Iowa.
The primary reason for the Badgers’ first loss in 37 days was a poor performance on offense. UW shot 33.9 percent from the field and went 6 of 20 from 3-point range after shooting 50.7 percent from beyond the arc over the previous three games.
The Badgers didn’t help themselves with some shaky shot selection early in the game. They also struggled to finish around the rim at times, going 12 of 25 on shots in the paint, according to Gard.
“You know you’re always going to have a thrust from them, especially here,” said Gard, whose team beat Michigan State 77-76 on Jan. 17 at the Kohl Center. “We needed to stem that off by finishing in the paint. I think that’s where we really got ourselves in too deep of a hole early by not finishing inside.
“I understand we’re not going to go 13-for-20 from (3-point range) every game, but there are other ways we can remedy that.”
Afterward, Izzo called it a “big win against a very good team” and said it was the blueprint for how he wants his team to play as the postseason nears.
“Our defense,” Izzo said, “was unbelievable at times.”
Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ scored 18 points to lead UW, which has now lost nine consecutive games at the Breslin Center.