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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, June 22, 2024
Wisconsin basketball

The Badgers knocked off top-seeded Indiana Saturday to secure a spot in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

Men's Basketball: Wisconsin advances to tournament title game with win over Indiana

CHICAGO—Wisconsin had beaten Indiana 11 straight times entering Saturday’s Big Ten tournament semifinal game. It’s difficult to beat any team that many games in a row, especially when the opponents are perhaps too familiar with one another from playing in the same conference.

Of those 11 wins, however, the Hoosiers were only ranked for five of them. They only held a top-10 ranking once over that stretch: during their loss to the Badgers Jan. 15 this season. Indiana played Wisconsin with an overall winning record in just six of those 11 games.

The streak began during former Hoosiers head coach Kelvin Sampson’s final season at Indiana and carried on through the beginning of current head coach Tom Crean’s tenure, the first three seasons of which totaled 28 wins (IU won 27 games last season). Yes, the Badgers dominated the series of late, but it’s not like they were knocking off a national title contender every time out.

Context aside, it’s hard to find a team with two better wins this season than Wisconsin’s over the Hoosiers, neither of which was played at home.

The Badgers limited Indiana to a season-low 56 points Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, which included a 38 percent shooting effort from IU. Wisconsin held two of the Hoosiers’ all-Big Ten performers, sophomore center Cody Zeller (4-of-10) and junior forward Victor Oladipo (4-of-12) to a combined 8-of-22 performance from the floor.

That defensive efficiency from UW was perhaps even more impressive than Friday’s, when Big Ten player of the year, Michigan’s sophomore guard Trey Burke, shot 8-of-22 from the floor in the Wolverines’ 59-point output in a loss to the Badgers.

Freshman forward Sam Dekker said the key to defending high profile scorers—he called Zeller, Oladipo and Burke “the best players in our conference”—is forcing them into tough looks at the hoop.

“When you make things tough for them—they’re still gonna get theirs—but it’s gonna take much more effort for them,” Dekker said. “You’re gonna be able to wind them down.”

In addition to containing Indiana’s top two scorers, the Badgers held senior guard Jordan Hulls to five points on 2-of-9 shooting, including 1-of-7 from beyond the 3-point arc. The Bloomington, Ind., native averages over 10 points per game this season and is a 48 percent 3-point shooter. Hulls lone make from 3-point range Saturday came in the final minute to cut UW’s lead from 12 to 9.

Junior guard Ben Brust shutting down Hulls, senior forward Mike Bruesewitz containing Oladipo and redshirt senior forward Ryan Evans’ four blocks certainly stand out as individual performances, but Bruesewitz said Wisconsin ultimately had success defensively Saturday because of its collective operation.

“We play team defense, that’s the thing,” Bruesewitz said. “Force guys to tough 2-point jumpers —we’re not trying to give up layups, we’re not trying to give up easy 3s, and when you don’t give up those things, you’re usually a pretty good defensive team.”

Evans said that, although UW’s offense is coming around, it’s been the Badgers’ stout defense and that’s been their backbone.

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“Defense wins championships,” Evans said. “It’s a lame saying, but it’s true. And then when you get the offense going, you look that much better as a team.”

Wisconsin took a three-point edge into halftime in large part thanks to Evans’ 10 points (5-of-7) and two assists (the Phoenix, Ariz., native finished with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and four blocks). The Badgers went on to build a nine-point lead a few minutes into the second half, but Indiana rattled off nine unanswered to tie things up with 14 minutes to play.

The teams once again knotted up at the 12:05 mark, Dekker went on a personal 7-0 run that put UW ahead for good.

“I got myself in a little roll there—you’ve just gotta take advantage of the things you see,” Dekker said. “I found some weaknesses in the defense there and took advantage.

Indiana charged back down the stretch, but the freshman’s fast-break layup, 3-point bucket and slam-dunk gave the Badgers the edge they needed to secure a spot in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

After Ohio State knocked off Michigan State, 61-58, in the second game of Saturday’s double header, Wisconsin will meet the Buckeyes at 2:30 Sunday. Although UW’s first goal this season was to win the conference regular season championship, redshirt senior forward Jared Berggren said the Badgers have a new objective.

“We had a couple missteps and stumbled a little bit and [a chance at the regular season title] got out of reach for us,” Berggren said. “Coming out here, we wanted to get a Big Ten tournament championship. Now we’ve put ourselves in a position where we have a chance tomorrow. Hopefully we can come out there and get it done.”

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