Monkey off the back
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—With Wisconsin's 14-point win over Minnesota Friday, the Badgers took a huge step forward in forgetting the failures of seasons past in the conference tournament. After their first Big Ten tournament victory in the last three years, the Badgers recognize the importance of getting that first win and garnering a bit of momentum heading into their next game on Saturday.
"It's good for the players," head coach Bo Ryan said after the game. "It has been a different environment for us but you have to come ready to play all the time. We have played well the last two Big Ten Tournament games, we just didn't shoot the ball well. Now, it's about what's next … Michigan State or Northwestern. Let's go get ready."
"It's nice to be playing tomorrow," Ryan added. "We are looking forward to the next 40 minutes."
Reading between the lines
Much of UW's success Friday definitely came during the second half when it forced nine Minnesota turnovers and tallied seven steals in the process. Leading the way for the Badgers was junior forward Mike Wilkinson who single-handedly stole the ball four times during the contest.
His aggressive play during the second half helped the Badgers in pull away from the pesky a Gophers team that played the Badgers tough for the first 30 minutes of the game.
"It was just reading what the defense was doing and making a break," forward Mike Wilkinson said.
"We realized what sets they were trying to run, and we were just trying to deny that initial entry pass," Ryan said. "We caught them off guard because we had been playing pretty safe and then after we were a little more aggressive in the passing lanes, anticipated, we got a couple deflections and turned them into some offense."
As they have many times this season, the Badgers received a much-needed emotional lift from their bench Friday, especially from junior forward Zach Morley. The second man off the pine for the Badgers, Morley fit the role of the "Energizer Bunny" to a "T" for UW, providing energy and effort on all parts of the court.
"He did a lot of the little things and kept us going at times," junior guard Clayton Hanson said. "He played solid like usual, got his few points, rebounds and just threw his body on the line every possession."
Although the Badgers received only 13 points off the bench, eight of them came from Morley. The super-sub also contributed eight rebounds (two offensive), three assists and two steals.
"I just tried to bring the intensity, a little spark off the bench and not get outworked by anybody," Morley said after the game. "We knew we'd have to match their intensity and play our style at the same time, and I just came in to help out in any way I could."
When appropriate times came for a Wisconsin fight song to fill Conseco Fieldhouse, prerecorded Badger band music was pumped through the arena's sound system. The Wisconsin Band did not make the trip to Indianapolis after being suspended by conductor Michael Leckrone for a rules violation that occurred on the band's return trip from last weekend's Big Ten Women's Basketball Tournament.
"It is just a little test thrown up to us," Ryan said jokingly. "We handled the adversity."
In the win, one of the obvious highlights for Badger fans was the sight of Wilkinson's break-away slam dunk in the second half. One of only a few times in his career at UW that he has dunked in a game, the mild-mannered Wilkinson definitely drew attention and inspired his teammates with his brief flash of elevation.
"I'm not sure, but I am fairly confident that I've had another one here at college," Wilkinson said after the game in reference to his dunk.
"I actually thought they were going to catch him," sophomore guard Boo Wade said. "Mike is kind of slow, but he wanted it bad and wanted the win bad, and so he gave the all-out effort to thrown one down for us."
With the win Friday, the Badgers prolong their weekend in Indianapolis at least one more day. However, with Less than 24 hours until its next matchup, UW gets little time to prepare mentally and physically for its next conference foe, Michigan State, with tip-off scheduled for 3:05 p.m. Saturday afternoon. On top of the little things on the court that need improving, such as free throws (UW only connected on 9 of 15 attempts), the Badgers will also focus on resting their bodies off the court.
"Rest. Have their legs ready and get ready because its not 24 hours and their right back at it," Ryan said. "So the guys have to be ready to keep picking up after one another, especially since its late in the season."
"It was physical out there today and once we adjusted, we played better. We'll rest up and bring the same tomorrow."
Wilkinson, Harris too much for Gophers - game story
Michigan State downs Wildcats - Spartans tip off with UW at 3:05 p.m. CST Saturday
Wisconsin's defense badgers Gophers - Minnesota notes
Photo gallery 1 - Michael Conroy
Photo gallery 2 - Darron Cummings
Photo gallery 3 - Matthew Kutz
Wisconsin 66, Minnesota 52 - line score
Illinois, Michigan advance - Tip off at 12:40 p.m. CST Saturday