IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa coach Fran McCaffery didn't have much to say after his 15th-ranked Hawkeyes lost yet again to a quality opponent at home.
McCaffery's shortness was understandable.
Iowa fell farther behind in the Big Ten title race after watching another team — this time No. 16 Wisconsin — make the crucial plays down the stretch.
Frank Kaminsky had 21 points and a crucial late steal as the Badgers won their fifth straight, 79-74 on Saturday.
Roy Devyn Marble had 21 points and 11 assists to lead the Hawkeyes, who lost their third home game in four tries.
Each of those defeats — to Michigan State, Ohio State and the Badgers — came down to the wire and featured huge plays by the visitors at crucial moments.
"We lost to three good teams," McCaffery said when asked if there was a pattern to those defeats.
Sam Dekker added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Badgers (22-5, 9-5 Big Ten), who swept the season series and moved a half-game ahead of the Hawkeyes (19-7, 8-5) in the Big Ten standings.
Iowa will also be two games behind either No. 20 Michigan or No. 13 Michigan State in the loss column, depending on which team one wins Sunday's matchup in Ann Arbor.
This time, it was Kaminsky who broke Iowa's heart.
Josh Oglesby's jumper with 1:01 left put Iowa up 72-71, but Kaminsky answered with a bank shot that gave Wisconsin a one-point lead. Kaminsky then stripped Marble under the basket and hit two free throws as the Badgers went up 75-72 with 24.5 seconds left.
Oglesby matched a season high with 17 points for Iowa. But Aaron White was held to just four points, and McCabe's 3-point attempt with less than 20 seconds left and the Hawkeyes down 3 never reached the rim
"It didn't come out of his hand cleanly. But he was wide open," McCaffery said of McCabe's shot. "I don't think he'll make any excuses there or anything."
This was just the second game in two weeks for Iowa. The Hawkeyes were off ahead of last Saturday's 82-70 win at Penn State, and Tuesday's postponement at Indiana gave the Hawkeyes an extra week off.
After a rather rusty start, Iowa asserted itself in the second half.
Marble hit a 3 and White followed with a strong drive to the hoop that put the Hawkeyes ahead 62-58 with 6:27 left. The Badgers seemed flummoxed at times by Iowa's zone defense, scoring just 20 points in the first 16 minutes of the second half.
Still, Wisconsin tied it at 66-all with 3:18 left on a three-point play by Nigel Hayes, and Bronson Koenig's jumper put the Badgers ahead 71-70 with 1:21 left.
Koenig had a career-high 12 points.
"When they took the lead, our guys didn't blink," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Iowa was forced to make its first starting lineup change of the season. Forward Zach McCabe started in place of Melsahn Basabe, who was sick.
Basabe is one of Iowa's top interior defenders, and the Badgers took advantage of his absence early on. Wisconsin hit 12 of its first 16 shots, and Dekker's 3 put the Badgers ahead 34-24.
Wisconsin shot 57 percent from the field in the first half, and Koenig matched his previous career high of 10 points in just 10 minutes as the Badgers led 40-31.
But Wisconsin missed its first six shots after the break and Iowa eventually retook the lead, 52-51, with 10:55 left. The Hawkeyes couldn't hold it, but they can't afford to dwell on this loss.
Iowa has three games next week, starting with Tuesday's trip to Minnesota
"If we'd won it would be the same thing. I don't look at that any differently. You've got a brutal week, two road games and a home game against three really good teams," McCaffery said.