IOWA CITY, Iowa – No. 16 Wisconsin's rare struggles at home in the Big Ten had largely been alleviated by a strong road record.
But that stellar mark away from Madison is in trouble after the Badgers lost 67-66 to unranked Iowa on Thursday night ahead of Sunday's showdown at No. 8 Ohio State.
Matt Gatens scored a career-high 33 points for Iowa in its second straight win over a ranked opponent.
It was the second straight career-high for Gatens, who had 30 points in Iowa's win over then-No. 18 Indiana on Sunday. Gatens scored the most points by a Badgers opponent since Davidson's Stephen Curry had 33 in the NCAA's regional semifinals in 2008.
Josh Gasser and Ryan Evans each had 14 points for Wisconsin, which never led and got swept by Iowa in the regular season for the first time since 1994-95.
"It hurts now, but we're going to keep moving forward. And Ohio State, if we can go in there and get them, that will erase a lot of things," Evans said.
Wisconsin (20-8, 9-6) lost for just the third time in 11 games, largely because of Gatens.
The Badgers did get within 65-63 on Jordan Taylor's layup with 4 seconds left. But Gatens made two free throws to cap his brilliant night for the Hawkeyes (15-13, 7-8), who celebrated along with a rowdy bunch of students who stormed the court.
Taylor's meaningless 3-pointer at the buzzer was the closest the Badgers would get in the second half.
"He's playing really well, and we knew it. It's not like we were surprised," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said about Gatens. "You've got the give the guy credit when he knocks those kinds of shots down. There was a lot of up hands. It wasn't hand down, man down. Those were tough shots."
With Gatens hitting from long range, Taylor saddled with three fouls and Iowa ahead by 13 points with 17:33 left, it looked nearly hopeless for the Badgers early in the second half.
Wisconsin rallied behind its well-honed resiliency, getting within a possession midway through the second half.
Iowa answered with Gatens, the heart of soul of a program that he's helped appear as promising as it has been since he arrived four years ago.
The Badgers rattled off a 12-2 run, capped when former Iowa commit Ben Brust drilled a 3 in transition to cut Iowa's lead to 51-48 with 12:56 to go. But Gatens followed two jumpers with challenged 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push Iowa back ahead 61-50 with 9:13 to go.
Aaron White added 12 points for Iowa. The Hawkeyes won despite going the final 7:29 without a field goal and allowing the Badgers to keep pulling within a possession in a final minute that was more frantic than it needed to be.
"Defensively, we obviously did a much better job in the second half," Ryan said.
Iowa pulled off what at the time appeared to be a stunning New Year's Eve result; beating Wisconsin 72-65 at the Kohl Center for their first victory in Madison since 2000.
It didn't look so stunning after the first 20 minutes of the rematch.
Iowa came out and scored 16 points in less than 5 minutes against the nation's leader in fewest points allowed per game. Gatens hit his first six shots as the Hawkeyes pushed their lead to 35-24.
Melsahn Basabe capped a rousing stretch for Iowa, throwing down a dunk off a through-the-legs pass from Devyn Marble, and White's slam off another turnover helped put Iowa ahead 43-34 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes were just nine points from topping Wisconsin's 51.1 points with a half to go. Not surprisingly, it was by far the most the Badgers had let up in the first half all season.
Rob Wilson chipped in 11 points, Brust had 10 and Taylor finished with just nine points, four assists and four turnovers for Wisconsin, which committed 11 of its 13 turnovers in that first half.
"Guys were a little anxious, trying to make the great play instead of the good play, things like that. Just part of the game, but usually for us it's not 11 in a half," Ryan said.