IOWA CITY, Iowa — Just when it appears the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team might start building some momentum, the Badgers remind everybody they’re not very good.
That sequence has played out multiple times this season, the latest grim reminder coming Tuesday night during an 85-67 loss to Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Any positive vibes UW had coming into the game after a 25-point win over Illinois last week were erased early and often by the Hawkeyes, who got to be the windshield and not the bug for once in Big Ten Conference play.
Freshman center Luka Garza finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds for Iowa, which had trailed by at least 17 points in its previous seven Big Ten games. The Hawkeyes (11-11, 2-7 Big Ten), who also got 17 points from sophomore forward Tyler Cook, never trailed against the Badgers.
UW fell to 1-8 away from home this season. By this point of the season, it should be clear to the Badgers that they need to hit certain benchmarks in two important categories − energy and toughness − to survive life on the road.
But this team hasn’t figured that out yet.
“It’s maturity and discipline,” UW coach Greg Gard said, “and the discipline comes with maturity.”
Both were absent early in the game, when Iowa set the tone by jumping out to a 9-0 start and forcing Gard to burn a timeout 3 minutes, 42 seconds into the game.
“It’s not necessarily what the other team is doing, it’s how we come out,” UW junior forward Khalil Iverson said. “I feel like we came out kind of slow and they pounced on us right away.”
The same thing happened a week earlier at Purdue, which built leads of 12-0 and 23-4 en route to a 28-point win over the Badgers.
“We have to get better at coming out right away and being ready to play right away as soon as the tip,” Iverson said. “I think our problem is we’re not coming out right away playing hard and that lets the other team get on us. … We can’t wait to come out and start playing.”
Junior center Ethan Happ finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Badgers (10-11, 3-5), while Iverson did all he could to keep UW in the game in the first half and finished with 17 points. Seldom-used junior forward Charlie Thomas had his best game of the season, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.
Big Ten opponents were shooting 50.0 percent against Iowa entering the night, including 44.9 percent from 3-point range. UW didn’t come close to those marks, finishing at 40.0 percent overall and 22.2 percent (4 of 18) from beyond the arc.
The Badgers missed their first nine shots and 15 of their first 18, but offense wasn’t even UW’s biggest issue.
Sophomore guard Jordan Bohannon had 13 points and 11 assists for Iowa, which shot 51.7 percent from the field en route to a season-high point total for a UW opponent. It was the fifth time this season the Badgers have allowed at least 80 points in a game.
Thanks largely to Garza and Cook, the Hawkeyes scored 44 points in the paint and added another 17 from the free throw line.
“This group has not taken those steps really where we need to take them consistently all year and we’ve got to continue to work at that and become better defensively,” Gard said, “because we’re not built offensively to make it a shootout.”
A quick glance at the box score will show Happ had one of his typical stat-stuffing games − the double-double was his sixth in eight games and he also led the Badgers with five assists − but he was a big part of the problem on the defensive end. He admitted as much after the game.
“It stems at practice, and that’s including myself,” Happ said. “There needs to be an approach every single possession, not just three possessions here and then all of a sudden they go on a run.”
There was hope for UW after it cut its deficit to 32-28 with 1:20 left in the first half, but the Badgers couldn’t close the half.
Iowa’s Isaiah Moss (15 points) sandwiched a 3-pointer and a basket in the paint around a missed layup by UW freshman guard Brad Davison to send the Hawkeyes into the locker room with a nine-point cushion.
Cook started the second half by dunking over Happ and, on the next possession, finished an alley-oop from Moss. The Hawkeyes scored 48 points after halftime on 57.1-percent shooting.
“That’s one mark we haven’t been able to attain all year is a level of consistency, specifically defensively,” Gard said. “It shows and then it disappears for a while and then it shows again, and that’s even within a game.”
This isn’t the first time UW followed up a promising performance with a dud.
Back in December, the Badgers won at Penn State − their only victory away from home this season − before falling at Temple two days later.
UW began 2018 with a convincing win at home against Indiana before laying an egg three days later at Rutgers.
Gard was asked Tuesday night if he’s running out of patience.
“I won’t talk about what I say in the locker room,” he said. “But we keep pushing, keep teaching, keep showing, keep drilling, keep demonstrating. More film study. We’ve taken steps forward, then we take one back. Then we take two steps forward, then we take one back.
“So that’s the frustrating thing. Consistency is a hard place to attain or to get to, but once we’ve hit it a few times we haven’t been able to hold there.”