Still Badgering the Opposition

The offensive numbers have certainly been eye popping by Wisconsin standards, but it can be argued that the Badgers wouldn't be in the Final Four without their defense, which has transitioned with the times.

DALLAS - It's been called an offensive explosion, balance and an up-tempo pace that has led to Wisconsin's best offensive output in the past.

Sophomore Sam Dekker has heard all about the suddenly "new and improved" Badgers offense from local and national media dating back to the program record 16-0 start and now the program's first appearance in the Final Four in over a decade.

But as anyone on the Wisconsin roster will tell the questioner, Wisconsin's best offense has always been its defense.

"We just have a team that likes to put pressure on defenses now," said Dekker. "We've got the guys that are able to do it, and we like to be aggressive and get to the hole and get to the rim. When you've got guys with that type of mindset and put that pressure on the defense, it makes it tougher for them. I think that's a lot of what's worked for us this year."

It evidently has, as Wisconsin (30-7) are one win away from tying the program record for wins in a season, a number it has a chance to reach when it takes on Kentucky (28-10) in the national semifinals on Saturday.

The offensive numbers don't lie. Averaging 73.9 points per game and fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency, averaging 1.19 points per game, the Badgers are putting up numbers that haven't been seen in Madison in 20 years.

And while the Badgers multitude of offensive weapons has helped them compensate for not being as stingy defensively as they've been at other points in Bo Ryan's tenure, Wisconsin has risen to the occasion during tournament time. The Badgers are 37th in the NCAA in allowing 63.7 points per game (outside of the top 10 for the first time since 2005-06) but are allowing only 56.8 points per game in four tournament games.

UW has also tightened up its field-goal defense (43 percent in the season, 38 percent in the tournament) and 3-point shooting defense (32 percent down from 34 percent). And this was in a year where defense was supposed to go the way of the dodo.

"Our system, our rules and our principles defensively that we have helps things stay simple," said associate head coach Greg Gard. "We weren't changing anything with how we were going to play. We've always emphasized not reaching or grabbing with our hands. We always emphasized moving our feet, chesting up, not really relying on block shots and taking charges. For us, we didn't have to change anything."

Before the first games began in November, the buzz around college basketball was all about the new emphasis on rules to limit hand checking, grabbing and arm-barring my defenders, thus increasing offensive production, flow and shooting percentages.

That turned out to just fine by Wisconsin, considering Ryan doesn't let players on the court if they don't play the shutdown defense he's looking for.

"Earlier in the year, you definitely could notice (the new rules)," said junior Josh Gasser, named to the All-Big Ten defensive team this year. "You've just got to learn from it. You've got to kind of figure out how things are being called throughout the game. As the season's gone on, you don't really think about it at all. It's just kind of part of the game."

Wisconsin has a habit of bringing in officials in the preseason to referee practices and scrimmages, laying down an early foundation of what is and isn't a foul before the games start to matter. The Badgers keep that practice going throughout the season, although instead of officials it's the assistants making the calls.

"Defensively, I think the refs have done a good job in terms of adjusting," said guard Traevon Jackson, noting UW's versatile offense has put pressures on defenses this year "It's tough for them to put them in that position because some things are charges. Some things are blocks. It's a lot of social calls. So you've got to bear with them. I think for the most part, they've done a good job."

The biggest thing is the players have been able to adapt and develop throughout the court of the season. Recognizing they aren't always the most athletic team on the court, Wisconsin has prided themselves off in-game adjustments.

In Wisconsin's third-round victory over Oregon, the Badgers trailed by 12 points at halftime after the Ducks set the tone in the first half with a fast-break offense. The Badgers adjusted at halftime, and rallied to an 85-77 win in front of a partisan crowd in Milwaukee, allowing no fast-break points in the second half.

UW accomplished the comeback by simply knowing how to attack opponent's weaknesses on offense, while beating players to the right spot and using their body without their hands on defense. It's one of the reasons Wisconsin is second in the country in committing just 15 fouls per game and are two wins from a national championship.

"This is quite the journey," said Ryan. "We've had more practices, and we've been together more than any team I've ever coached. If you take the hours that this squad has been together, by far, this is (the most) … It's been very enjoyable because we've got some young men that just are really outstanding and really know how to handle everything that's been given to them, and all the obstacles, all the good parts, the bad parts, and everything in between."


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