Balanced Badgers Silence Grizzlies

Scoring 39 first-half points, getting four players in double figures and forcing a field goal drought of 9 minutes, 43 seconds, No.4 seed Wisconsin looked like a team to be reckoned with in the NCAA Tournament in its blow out win over No.13 seed Montana, 73-49, in the NCAA second round Thursday.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – If there was any one play that was emblematic of fourth-seeded Wisconsin's offensive effort in its convincing 73-49 victory over 13-seeded Montana on Thursday at The Pit, it was one involving highly-regarded Badgers senior Jordan Taylor.

The Bloomington, Minn.-native drove into the lane but was corralled by a pair of Grizzly defenders. Falling down, Taylor caught junior Mike Bruesewitz with a sharp pass that the starting forward easily converted into a basket.

"(The keys were) moving bodies and moving the ball," said Taylor. "We got stagnant at times but we kept bringing in guys – if they weren't making shots they were moving themselves and opening up gaps for guys to make plays. "The perfect example was one play where I fell down and Mike just kept moving through the defense and I just kind of threw it to him. He did a good job of opening himself up."

A player finding open spots on Thursday afternoon was not a rare occurrence for Wisconsin (27-8), which finished with four players in double figures in the win over the Big Sky champions. Senior guard Ryan Evans scored six of his game-high 18 points in the early 12-2 run that separated UW from the determined, but overmatched Grizzlies.

Evans would finish with eight rebounds and 6-of-8 shooting as the Badgers shot 23-of-48 (47.9 percent) overall and a sizzling 10-of-19 (52.9 percent) from three-point land.

"It's in the left hand column, so you're always happy with that," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "But there's more (wins) out there and in order to get those you have to play better. So we'll try to improve a couple of things and make sure we're playing to our max."

Taylor added 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting with eight rebounds, 3-of-5 on 3-pointers while sophomore guard Josh Gasser added 12 points while senior guard Rob Wilson came of the bench to add 10 points.

Senior Art Steward scored 18 points to pace Montana (24-10). Junior Will Cherry, who came into the game averaging 16 points per game, finished with nine points on 3-of-14 shooting – a stat emblematic of the Badgers' determined defensive performance.

The Badgers did not have a smooth start, turning the ball over twice in the first 90 seconds as they adjusted to the Grizzlies' match-up zone. Wisconsin fell behind 5-2 early but eventually turned up the defensive heat and getting its outside shooing going to launch a 12-2 run to take a 14-7 lead with 14:30 left in the half.

Evans had the hot hand early, going 4-for-4 from the field and hitting his only 3-point attempt. The Badgers also used the opening minutes to begin establishing themselves under the basket with an early 6-1 advantage on rebounds.

"I just wanted to come out and play aggressive and loose, not with the idea that I'd have five turnovers, but to take some pressure off Jordan and the rest of them," said Evans. "And my teammates backed me up when I did have those turnovers."

Taylor said the hot start for Evans spread to the rest of the team.

"Anytime you have a guy start like that it definitely gets you going as a team. It also opens up other guys," he said. "We've been saying all year that we have a lot of guys who can put it in the hole."

But the Grizzlies would respond with a run of their own. Using slashing drives to the basket and spot up shooting from the outside, Montana managed an 11-6 run to cut the Wisconsin lead to 20-18 with 10:09 mark. Steward got the Griz going during the run, especially helping with an old-fashioned 3-point play as well as with his deft passing.

The Badgers answered with treys from Gasser and Wilson, who closed a 10-2 Wisconsin run with an old fashioned 3-point play of his own to blow out UW's lead to 30-22 with 5:41 left in the half.

The Badger defensive effort elevated for the remainder of the first stanza as Montana scored just five points, hitting just 3-of-7 over last five minutes of the half while Wisconsin tallied nine more points, mostly in the paint, to take a 32-26 lead into halftime.

Surprisingly, the Grizzlies held an 18-4 scoring advantage in the paint and were basically even on rebounds with UW, railing 12-11 on the boards. Montana finished the first half with 12-of-24 shooting but hit just 1 of 4 treys while the Badgers shot 12 of 22 from the field and went a strong 6-for -10 from behind the three-point line.

Both teams struggled to find their groove in the second half, only scoring five points between them in the first four minutes of the half. Taylor hit a trey at the 15:50 mark to finish a 7-1 opening run that put Wisconsin firmly in the lead at 46-30.

Montana would respond with an 8-2 run to cut the lead back to 48-38 with 12:31 left in the game. But the Griz would get no closer, making only three more field goals the rest of the way.

"You just have to give a ton of credit to Wisconsin," said Grizzlies head coach Wayne Tinkle. "They were ready to go. (They) played well, shot lights out… were more physical than us. We pride ourselves in being able to create doubt in the minds of our opponents and they did a really good job of that (back at us).

"Our guys battled back and we made a nice little run there in the second half and they always had an answer."

Wisconsin will move on to play fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon at The Pit in Albuquerque in the East Region round of 32. Game times and TV schedules are to be announced.

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