Jacob Pullen played perhaps the best game of his career at the highest stage. Quick defenders and an off night shooting held Jordan Taylor to 12 points on 16 attempts. Both Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer had to spend time away from the court enjoying stitches courtesy of a couple Wildcat elbows.
And it still wasn't enough.
Better role players and the best game of Jon Leuer's life pushed the Badgers into the Sweet 16 Saturday night, and there wasn't anything Kansas State could really do to stop it.
The hallmarks of Bo Ryan's program were on full display. The scars on Leuer and Nankivil's head can attest to their toughness and determination. The multiple backdoor cuts executed early to soften up the Kansas State defense speak to the hoops IQ of UW players. And of course, the near perfection from the free throw line and five turnovers show off the fundamental nature of Ryan's program.
Wisconsin basketball has rarely felt so intoxicating.
The Badgers averaged 1.30 points per possession (and excellent figure for those unfamiliar with the tempo free stat) and did it all with Taylor unable to get in a shooting rhythm.
Tim Jarmusz put together the most efficient game of his life, assisting on three buckets — two off backdoor cuts — and hitting all three shots he took all while remaining turnover free. The best part was he actually put the ball on the floor and took an open pull up jumper, a sure sign of his confidence peaking at the right time.
Josh Gasser played in the same vein. He was uber efficient on offense, and grabbed seven tough boards to abuse the smaller Kansas State guards. He took the ball to the hoop twice successfully, something that surely surprised the Wildcats.
The man of the match, of course, was Leuer. The 19 points on 50 percent shooting led UW, but it was the assertive play that defined his game. Limited to just 28 minutes because of his trip to the locker room to get his head stitched up, Leuer came back to the game and shot energy into the Badgers who took a six point lead into halftime. Leuer grabbed four offensive rebounds and made nine trips to the free throw line, as neither Curtis Kelly or Jamar Samuels could handle the voracious Leuer.
UW shot the three ball well (9-of-20) and made very few mistakes. It was a big time performance in the toughest setting.
The Wildcats put up a very respectable 1.20 points per possession — right around the Badgers season average — and made several runs to claw their way back in the game.
Most of the credit must be given to Pullen's sublime shooting, however, rather than lackadaisical defense from UW. The Badgers gave up just seven assists and forced eight turnovers — numbers that suggest Kansas State just shot the ball really well.
If there is any criticism to be made, it is that Taylor's defense was too soft in the beginning, allowing Pullen to get in an early groove.
Still, Taylor more than made up for that with his blocked shot in the end.
With breaks going against UW, they overcame more adversity than they had all season. Wisconsin struggled on the road this year, calling many to question how they would fare in the NCAA Tournament away from the friendly confines of the Kohl Center.
It turns out the cliché about Ryan's programs are stated for a reason.