Wilkinson perseveres

Badger forward fights through early struggles, makes big plays down the stretch in 55-43 win over Rutgers

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Wisconsin forward Mike Wilkinson saved the best for last Saturday.


With just two minutes left in the game, Wilkinson stripped the ball from Rutgers forward Herve Lamizana in the post and passed the ball up court leading to a Devin Harris layup that gave the Badgers a 52-40 lead. Fifteen seconds later, Wilkinson outmuscled Sean Axani and Lamizana for a defensive rebound and proceeded to draw the fifth foul on Axani and knock down two free throws to make it 54-40.


"It might not show by the total number of rebounds, but (Wilkinson) made sure his man wasn't going to get a lot of rebounds," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.


Wilkinson finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five steals Saturday. Early in the game, however, it was one of those days.


Just one minute, 36 seconds into the game, Wilkinson found himself on the bench. In two Badger possessions, Wilkinson had twice made poor decisions in the post, turning the ball over each time.


When he re-entered a minute and a half later, things did not get much better initially. Just nine seconds after returning to the game, Wilkinson turned it over again as he tried to feed forward Zach Morley on the block.


"We try to hit the post so at times the defense is going to get around and get a hand on some of those if we're not careful so we just have to make better decisions," Ryan said. "And he did make better decisions (as the game progressed)."


About five and a half minutes into the game, Wilkinson missed a three-point shot from the top of the key. Two Badger possessions later, Wilkinson attempted to drive the lane from the same spot on the floor and was called for charging as he reached the block.


Wilkinson finished the first half with the four turnovers and no points, going 0-for-2 from the field. He also struggled at times to gain position inside, picking up just two rebounds as Rutgers earned a five-rebound edge in the opening frame.


Wilkinson, though, continued to work hard and provided other positives with his defensive pressure. It started with pure hustle, as Wilkinson drew two charges in a minute midway through the first half.


"As you noticed my shot wasn't particularly falling early and I made a couple not-so-smart decisions, but there is more to the game than just being on the offensive end," Wilkinson said.


Then, with seven and a half minutes to play in the first half, Wilkinson thwarted consecutive Scarlet Knight possessions with steals, the first leading to two free throws from Devin Harris, giving the Badgers their largest lead of the first half at 13-7. The latter steal was simply a product of wanting it more, with Wilkinson diving to the floor for a loose ball.


"Mike with the steals, he got his hands on balls, he got deflections," Ryan said. "If you are not shooting it well there are so many other things in basketball that you can do to help the team and Mike certainly did that."


Wilkinson finished the half with four steals and also set up Zach Morley with an entry pass to the block to give Wisconsin a 17-13 lead.


"I tried to do what I could to help the team on the defensive end. There happened to just be some passes or some deflections and that kind of changed (my momentum)," Wilkinson said.


Wilkinson's offensive game picked up after halftime, capping a 9-0 run to start the second half with a three-point shot for his first points of the game. Midway through the second frame, guard Freddie Owens missed a runner but Wilkinson outworked three Scarlet Knight players under the glass to grab the rebound, then converted a reverse layup.


"Once you get something to change your momentum like on the defensive end it changes it on the offensive end too," Wilkinson said. "One positive leads to another and, you know, that is just kind of how the night went."

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