Shooting Through the Blue

It had all the appearances of a short stay in the Big Ten Tournament. My how fortunes can change in just 20 minutes. After being held to 17 first-half points, No.22 Wisconsin exploded for 51 points in the second half to beat No.8 Michigan, 68-59, in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals Friday.

CHICAGO - As his team has slogged its way through repeated scoring struggles this season, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has stated that he can't yell at his players to start making shots.

After scoring only 17 points in the first half on 17.2 percent shooting, Ryan figured the postseason was time to start yelling.

"It caught me by surprise," said junior Ben Brust. "I was like, ‘Hey he said it, let's go do it.'"

Ryan's "start making shots" yell before the team hit the floor to start the second half was meant in jest, but his players acted like they didn't know the difference.

As hard as it was for No.22 Wisconsin to find the bottom of the net early, it was impossible for the Badgers not to miss down the stretch. Sparked by a 10-0 run early in the second half, No.22 Wisconsin made 15 of its first 22 shots, including 6-of-7 from 3-point range, to shoot by No.8 Michigan, 68-59, in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals at the United Center.

Shooting 60.7 percent after halftime to sweep the season series against the Wolverines, Wisconsin (22-10) faces No.1 seed Indiana (27-5) in Saturday afternoon's first Big Ten semifinal, a rematch of the Badgers' 64-59 win in Bloomington January 15.

"When we play together as a team, we can beat anybody," said point guard Traevon Jackson, who facilitated the comeback. "(Michigan) are NBA guys, but we believe in ourselves as well. We got a really talented group of guys and when we come together, we can beat anybody."

After taking 44.8 percent (13 of 29) of its first-half shots from behind the perimeter, Wisconsin dipped that number to 32 percent (9 of 28) in the second half by attacking the rim and drawing contact. The result was Wisconsin scoring 18 points in the paint (compared to four in the second half) and scoring a season-high 51 points for the half.

Putting that number in perspective, there were six games this season when the Badgers didn't reach 51 on the scoreboard.

"We have a really open team," said Jackson of an open halftime discussion about getting back to the scouting report. "Everybody takes criticism from everybody and everybody listens to everybody … That was our game plan to get the ball inside. That's always our game plan."

The production wasn't limited to one source either. Ryan Evans scored 12 points, dishing out a career-high six assists. Mike Bruesewitz registered eight rebounds to go along with his eight points, which included two cold-blooded 3-pointers in the second half to keep Wisconsin ahead for the final 17:21 of the game.

"As a team, we got better looks by simply going inside," said Evans. "By going inside out, we got wide-open threes because the defense tends to collapse. That works in our favor with the 3-point shooters that we have."

Frank Kaminsky shot 60 percent from the field for the first time since the win at Indiana and Brust registered 14 points and made all three of his second-half 3-pointers, the last of which game Wisconsin its biggest lead at 11 with 6:01 to go.

Jared Berggren only had eight points, but his buckets on back-to-back possessions early in the second half gave the Badgers the lead for good and established their presence in the post.

"It just resonated when Jared got going inside and we started to feed off each other," said Brust. "I think that's what happened today, and it was fun."

The post penetration led to kick outs for open 3-pointers that were better guarded in the first half. With Michigan (26-7) collapsing its pressure, Wisconsin started firing and shot 66.7 percent (6-for-9) from 3-point range after halftime.

"When you are open, I think it's a lot easier to shoot the three," said Jackson, with a smile.

It wouldn't be a Wisconsin conference game, however, if it didn't become a nail biter at some point. With Berggren and Jackson on the bench with four fouls a piece after UW took its biggest lead, Michigan's 9-0 run was facilitated by production of conference player of the year Trey Burke.

The sophomore had seven of his points during the run, bringing Michigan to within 56-54 with 3:37 remaining. Wisconsin burned a timeout and then got back to work. Held to three points or less in the last four games, Kaminsky made a pull-up jumper that bounced softly around the rim and in as the final seconds of the shot clock ticked off.

That sparked an 11-2 run for Wisconsin, who closed out the Wolverines from that point forward.

"I've been kind of frustrated with my shot (and) I haven't made anything in awhile," said Kaminsky. "It was nice to come in the second half and be able to knock down a couple shots in the second half to help my team out."

"He's been in tuned offensive and defensively in practice," added Evans of Kaminsky. "He gave us a lift."

Held without a field goal during a 21:50 stretch, Burke led all scorers with 19 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there. He finished with a game-high seven assists, but also four turnovers.

"We worked on it all week, just trying to corral him as much as possible," said Brust. "He's an All-American-type player, probably the best point guard in the country, but Traevon and Jared did a good job of (playing) cat-and-mouse a little bit." "Just a great team effort," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan added. "Guys picked each other up. They didn't get frustrated when the shots weren't going down in the first half and they took care of that in the second half. They continued their hustle on defense."

In addition to guarding Burke, Jackson finished with a career-high 16 points, having set a new career high in each of the last two games.

"I am glad it's clicking at the right time this season," said Jackson. "I just have to keep it going." Wisconsin stayed in the game thanks to its defense. Holding Michigan to 34.5 percent shooting and Burke scoreless for the final 14:33 of the first half, the Badgers were able to claw back within three points, 20-17, by scoring seven points in the final 1:17.

"Defense wins championships," said Evans, as UW held Michigan to 38.6 percent. "At Wisconsin we understand that."

Before that, it was really ugly. Wisconsin started 3-for-21 from the floor, 0-for-8 from 3-point range, before Brust hit a 3-pointrer with 6:21 remaining. Wisconsin finished with more turnovers (six) than points (five), shooting 17.2 percent in the first half, but Jackson hitting a 3-pointer just before time expired gave Wisconsin a boost it needed.

Well there's that along with Wisconsin's stingy defense and Ryan's coy halftime sendoff speech.

"(Bo) put a smile on my face, along with the rest of the team," said Evans. "It was a team effort."

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