"I think it's being well coached and being prepared for these teams," said freshman Sam Dekker. "Just being confident that we are a good team and we can play with anybody in the nation. We may not get the credit, but we believe we're a good team and can beat anyone."
A day before the nation fills out its tournament bracket, No.22 Wisconsin is showing it is one of the nation's best, knocking off No.3 Indiana, 68-56, in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals at the United Center with as complete of a performance as it has put together all season.
After finishing two wins shy of a conference championship, the Badgers (23-10) will play for its third Big Ten Tournament championship and first since 2008 when it faces No.10 Ohio State (25-7) - a 61-58 winner over No.8 Michigan State – Sunday afternoon.
Wisconsin got four players in double figures, shot a blistering 51.0 percent (25-for-49) from the floor, and blocked 10 shots to win its 12th straight game against Indiana (27-6); tying Purdue's run from 1908-1914 as the most consecutive wins over the Hoosiers all time.
"Never gets old," said junior guard Ben Brust, smiling.
Giving the Hoosiers their first double-digit loss of the season, the Badgers own victories over four top-10 teams this season and seven wins over teams in the AP Top 25. And once again, Wisconsin did it with defense.
In Wisconsin's 64-59 win at Bloomington January 15, the Badgers held Indiana to a season low in points (59), field goal percentage (37.0) and 3-point field goal percentage (25.0). Saturday was just as good, as the Hoosiers scored a season-low 56 points while shooting only 38.2 percent from the floor and 29.4 percent from 3-point range.
"I can't tell you how proud I am of the defensive effort on a very good offensive team," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "So every guy that went in there was pretty much sticking to the rules and trying to force Indiana to make some tough shots. I thought our guys accomplished that."
Wisconsin held five of Indiana's top six scorers below its season average, including its top two in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. Oladipo (10 points) was held to 1 of 5 shooting in the second half while Zeller (13) shot only 4 of 10 matched up against Jared Berggren.
Wisconsin also forced 13 turnovers and registered 10 blocks, three from Berggren, by being active in the post.
"I tried to do pretty much the opposite (against Zeller) of what I did the last time," said Berggren, who also managed to go a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 from the line for 11 points. "When we played them the last time, he killed me in the first half. I gave him way too much. I just tried to make it difficult for him, keep a body on him."
From an offensive standpoint, Wisconsin could not have asked for much more balance. After shooting 60.4 percent in the second half in its win over Michigan, Wisconsin shot better than 50 percent in each half and outscored Indiana in the paint (30-28), on second-chance points (18-11), fast-break points (9-5) and bench points (17-8).
Those stats made up for Wisconsin turning the ball over 15 times and not making its first free throw until 4:43 remained.
"Guys gave us some great inside-out looks and we knocked them down," said senior Mike Bruesewitz. "We had guys stepping in."
Senior Ryan Evans continued his outstanding conference tournament with a game-high 16 points (7-for-12 shooting) and team highs in rebounds (eight), assists (four) and blocks (four). Evans scored 10 of his points in the first half, a stretch that saw Wisconsin score its first 18 points of the game from inside the paint one day after being reluctant to attack inside in the first half against Michigan.
"We got the ball in the post and I've been playing through that," said Evans. "We've been successful doing that. We're conditioned to go inside (first) … Doing that will give you success at any level."
"When Ryan gets going, he creates so much stuff for other people," added Brust.
The Hoosiers collapsing inside eventually allowed production from the perimeter. After not making a 3-point jumper for the first 13:37, Wisconsin made a 3-pointer on four of eight possessions, spurring them on a 12-3 run late in the first half.
When Indiana threatened by scoring the first 10 points of a 13-2 run to tie the score at 43, Dekker made a key 3-pointer to stem the tide. When Indiana cut the lead to 50-49 with 9:45 to go, the Badgers pounded the paint and made free throws.
Wisconsin made 10 of its final 14 free throws and held Indiana to only seven points the remainder of the game.
"(Dekker) did a good job giving us a little more of a cushion," said Brust. "I think we did a good job after that keeping the lead."
In the final weeks of the conference season, the seniors spoke passionately about waning to leave Wisconsin with a championship ring. After the Badgers let a regular season title slip away in the final two weeks, the school's third tournament championship is within its reach.
"When shots are falling, you are peaking at the right time," said Evans. "That's huge at tournament time because momentum is a big part of any tournament."