Rob Wilson's career high was 13 points – a mark he hit over two years ago – entering Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against No.15 Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Since that day, he struggled with hamstring injuries last year – to the point where UW coach Bo Ryan admitted in hindsight that the UW medical staff should have redshirted him.
His consistency and confidence went though and ebbs and flows and played eight minutes or less in six consecutive games from Jan. 18 to Feb.9.
That's all in the past now. With Wisconsin's other senior guard, Jordan Taylor, struggling though poor shooting and foul trouble, Wilson came off the bench to score 30 points on an efficient 16 shots to help No.14 Wisconsin outlast the Hoosiers, 79-71.
Wisconsin (24-8) beat Indiana (25-8) for the 10th straight time to lead the Badgers into the Big Ten semifinals for the first time since 2008 and set up a rematch with No.8 Michigan State tomorrow afternoon.
"The weight of the ball felt like it was going in today," said Wilson. "I don't remember that feeling in a long time."
Wilson's performance assaulted the record books, as he set a new UW record for most points in the Big Ten Tournament (surpassing Devin Harris' 29 points against Illinois in 2004), his 11 made field goals surpassed Harris and Alando Tucker's 10, his made 3-pointers were more than Harris' five against Michigan State in 2004 and his 70 percent from 3-point range was better than Sean Masson's 57.1 percent against Iowa in 1999.
Most of all, it was unexpected for a player that scored 36 total points his entire junior year and hasn't started a game all season.
"He's been doing this in practice, in these last few games, and he's really been coming on for us," said junior Jared Berggren, who added 16 points and nine rebounds. "I can't honestly say I expected him to have 30 before this game. I knew he was capable of putting up good numbers, so it was fun to see."
Fun, and necessary. With Taylor a nonfactor shooting 3-for-12 and sitting at lengths on the bench because of foul trouble, Wilson carried the offense. After Indiana – which got 17 points from Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller - cut a seven-point lead down to one early in the second half, Wilson hit 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to push the UW lead to 48-41, both coming off assists from Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz.
"It's crazy," Gasser said of Wilson, who scored nine straight points for UW during that stretch. "He deserves a performance like this. When he hits one or two shots you feel great because he's a senior who has worked himself up being one of the hardest workers on the team."
All of those shots fail to compare to his final dagger. With Indiana cutting the lead to four with 70 seconds remaining and a partisan Hoosiers crowd on their feet, Taylor swung the ball to Wilson at the right elbow and unleashed a fist pump when Wilson buried it at the end of the shot clock.
"Needless to say we had a player who was in a zone," said coach Bo Ryan, who recorded his 266th victory at UW, the most in program history. "And his teammates found him. He worked hard to get open. I think Rob Wilson's the story of the game as far as our offensive end goes.
"I think Rob has really stepped into his own here at the end of the year, and I know his teammates are thankful."
It was more than 30 points that stood out. Wilson stood his ground and took a charge on Derek Elston with Wisconsin clinging to a 65-62 lead with 3:22 remaining. Wilson's only assist was critical, finding Berggren open on the low block for an easy dunk to give UW a 69-64 lead with 1:34 remaining. He also cinched the game with his 30th point from the free throw line with 22 seconds remaining.
"You always want to go out with a bang, but it's that time of the year when every team in the country steps it up and every player steps it up because it's tournament time," said Wilson. "So that's what I did, stepped up as a senior's supposed to."
UW went 2-for-21 from 3-point range in last year's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss. No such shooting this time, as Wisconsin started 6-for-10 from 3-point range, finished the first half 7-for-15 from the perimeter and ended up going 13-for-26 – it's most makes since Nov.26 and tied the tournament record.
Gasser hit three 3-pointers, Rob Wilson continued his hot streak with a pair off the bench and Jared Berggren hit a perimeter three and made an old-fashioned one when he got position on Zeller. Indiana started 6-for-10 shooting and trailed still 25-15.
"When we're making shots, it makes us that much better," said Gasser. "It makes everything a lot easier."
Wisconsin overcame Taylor's 2-for-10 first-half shooting, which included four missed shots in the paint and an offensive foul underneath the basket, by getting 10 points from Wilson and 10 points, 8 rebounds (three offensive) from Berggren. That set the pace for a rematch with Michigan State and a night that Wilson will never forget.
"He's a scorer," said Taylor, who hit some late free throws to score 12 points. "He can put it in the hole and he showed that tonight, but it's something he's been doing here recently now, and I'm just happy for him."