The Wisconsin men’s basketball team had a chance late, but a steal by Justin Hawkins and a pair of clutch free throws on the other end were the difference for UNLV in a hard-fought, 68-65 win over the No. 25 Badgers at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday. Neither team led by more than five points in a game that saw a total of 13 ties and 13 lead changes. The final swap of the lead came with just under a minute to play, when UNLV’s Chace Stanback knocked down a jumper that turned a 1-point edge for the Badgers into a 66-65 lead for the Runnin’ Rebels. Junior guard Jordan Taylor missed a jumper on the Badgers’ next possession, but UNLV left the door open when Oscar Bellfield missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the free-throw line with 30 seconds to play.
Senior forward Jon Leuer had a crack at putting UW back out front but missed, with the rebound of his attempt going out of bounds to the Badgers. Hawkins quelled the threat by swiping Mike Bruesewitz’s inbound pass for UNLV’s eighth steal of the night and then hit both free throws on the other end to provide the final margin.
The Rebels turned the Badgers over a total of 15 times on the night and scored 13 points off those turnovers.
"We had some mental breakdowns tonight that cost us,” said Taylor, whose attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer drew iron as the clock expired. “We had something like 15 turnovers, and you can't do that against a good team on the road, especially when they convert them into points."
Despite a solid effort on the boards, the Badgers were unable to translate their rebounding edge into a scoring advantage. Wisconsin (2-1) hauled down 14 offensive rebounds and converted 13 second-chance points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome their 37-percent shooting from the floor.
That’s because the Runnin’ Rebels hit 49 percent of their field-goal attempts, including a 50-percent clip from beyond the arc. UW finished the night 6-for-20 from long range.
Wisconsin’s starting five was a combined 10-for-34 (29 percent) from the field.
The Badgers kept things close by getting to the free-throw line and converting on 21 of 26 attempts (81 percent). UW outscored the Rebels by 10 points at the charity stripe.
Taylor led the way for the Badgers with 19 points, including an 8-for-9 performance at the free-throw line. He also had three assists and three rebounds.
Sophomore Ryan Evans had 11 points and six rebounds in just 20 minutes off the bench, while Leuer added 10 points after being limited to 26 minutes by first-half foul trouble.
Freshman Josh Gasser, making his second-consecutive start, had seven points and seven rebounds.
The Badgers return to the road next week for the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., opening the tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday against Manhattan on ESPN2.