INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—After Michigan State had a quick start to the game, the Badgers were able to weather the Spartans' storm behind the all-around play of junior forward Mike Wilkinson. Wilkinson notched the Badgers first seven points of the game en route to his seventh-straight double-digit scoring performance. Single-handedly keeping UW from being blown out early, Wilkinson allowed the Badgers to stay close in the first half and maintained a strong effort through the rest of the game, finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, three blocks and two assists.
Wilkinson's exceptional performance earned praise from his teammates following the semifinal win Saturday.
"Mike's effort, really, is not replaceable," sophomore forward Ray Nixon said. "Him and the other bigs were working hard all game and getting the other post players tired. Mike, he got some great looks through the game and just outworked their post players."
In the 68-66 win, the Badgers received contributions from nearly all the players suited for the game. Although the five off the bench for UW (junior guard Clayton Hanson, junior forward Zach Morley, sophomore center Andreas Helmigk, sophomore forward Ray Nixon and senior guard Ike Ukawuba) only had 11 points, their defensive efforts, energy and impact on the game did not go unnoticed by the starters.
One Badger that saw increased playing time in the semifinal game was Nixon. He played only 12 minutes, tallying two points and a rebound. However, all 12 minutes proved instrumental to the strong defensive effort UW displayed Saturday.
"Every time I step on the floor, I intend to keep up with the other guys already out there on the court," Nixon said. "I intend to bring energy and bring as much intensity as I can to the floor."
"Ray played great ‘D' and gave us a lot of relief off the bench," Wilkinson said. "Him and Clay just came in and gave us a great spark. Even when they weren't scoring, they stepped it up and contributed on the defensive end. You really can't say enough about what they come in and do for us."
Hanson also made contributions from off the bench, scoring three points and dishing out an assist in 24 minutes. More than his statistics, his defense was his strongest asset to the team, taking a charge in the second half during a crucial part of the game.
"Those guys just showed that we need more than five or six people to come out here and win a game like this, especially with the number of games in so many days," junior guard Devin Harris said.
The other scorer
Harris and Wilkinson scored 21 and 20 points, respectively, but sophomore guard Boo Wade had a strong supporting role in the win.
Wade contributed 10 points in 33 minutes, connecting on both attempts from 3-point range and 3 of 5 from the field.
"Today, I came out and was moving a little more and my man was really trying to cheat off me, thinking I was not going to do anything with the ball," Wade said. "With Michigan State, I don't know, but they just play off me because they feel I can't shoot the 3-point shots. Tonight, I was able to knock down my first outside shot and really, tonight, it felt like they were all going to go down."
More than his solid performance offensively, Wade did an impressive job controlling MSU junior guard Chris Hill on the defensive end. Limiting Hill to only 11 points in 36 minutes, Wade overcame a flurry of picks and screens to clearly dominate the matchup.
"For me, I was trying to keep a hand in his face and keep him out of rhythm," Wade said. "With all those screens, man, I don't think I've ever seen more, it gets frustrating sometimes. But, for the way they played and for us to get a win, it's big."
As aggressive as both the Badgers and Spartans are, their matchup Saturday was surprisingly very clean. The two teams combined for only 10 turnovers for the game, a reason Ryan thought the game was one of the best he had ever seen.
The Badgers only committed 13 fouls, allowing MSU to attempt only 11 free throws. Proving crucial down the stretch, the Badgers knocked down 13 of 19 attempts from the charity stripe.
"That's our game plan every game, to get to the free-throw line and get free points," forward Zach Morley said following the game. "In the second half, we got back to that and were a little more aggressive getting the ball inside and making harder cuts, which allowed us to take advantage at the line."
"We moved our feet," Ryan said. "Fouls were the same both ways, but really it was just good tournament basketball. The key is not to reach and grab because that's how you get in trouble defensively."
Mental and Physical Battle
With less than 24 hours until the Big Ten Tournament Championship against No. 1 seed Illinois, the Badgers face the daunting tasking of having little time to prepare after their nail-biting win over Michigan State.
Drained physically and mentally after the battle with the Spartans, the Badgers can think of only a couple things in preparation for the Illini Sunday afternoon.
"Fluids and rest, that's what we need," Nixon said. "Drink a lot of fluids and get as much rest as we can. It was a big win, we're all pretty happy, but there is tomorrow."
Elated, tired, exhausted and drained is what the Badgers are feeling right now, but it is what comes with a win of this magnitude in the postseason.
"All those emotions in one, is what I feel right now," Harris said. "But, we have to play tomorrow and hopefully we have a little more in the tank."
"Tomorrow will be third day in a row and it's something we love to do and so it should be a lot of fun out there versus Illinois," Morley said.
Photo gallery 1 – Matthew Kutz
Photo gallery 2 – Michael Conroy
Photo gallery 3 – Darron Cummings
Photo gallery 4 – Tom Strattman