MILWAUKEE—During the first half in Wisconsin's 59-55 loss to Pittsburgh, two stats in particular jump off the page. First, the big fat zero for points next to the Panthers freshman center Chris Taft's name and second, Pitt's 21 rebounds compared to Wisconsin's 16. Even though the Badgers were getting slapped around on the boards, they were still in it, 26-26, going into halftime.
In the second half though, things started to change. First, Taft finally came around for the Panthers. He tallied the first points of the half with a hook shot over senior center Dave Mader to put Pitt up 28-26.
As the half progressed, Taft took advantage of the Badgers defense, particularly when junior forward Mike Wilkinson slid over to help out his teammates. This left no one to box out the man in the middle and Taft obliged himself to three emphatic dunks. His first highlight came after working the high-low with senior guard Jaron Brown. Next, Brown found Taft again for a slam, but this time on a fast-break. Then, with five minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the game, senior guard Julius Page missed a shot but Taft slammed home the put-back. Taft ended up with eight points and four rebounds in 29 minutes.
In addition to Taft's improved presence in the paint, Pittsburgh's edge on the boards turned into an all-out beating that the Badgers could not handle.
"They have beaten teams that way all year," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said regarding Pitt's rebounding. "We thought we could bang, we thought we could hang. We did the things we normally tried to do, they just were much more physical than us and were able to get to the loose ones."
"Rebounding is an emphasis of ours and we did it well against a good rebounding team," Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said. "Our guards rebounded well and there was a good effort on the boards against a tough Wisconsin team."
It was indeed an all-around rebounding effort for the Panthers. They were seemingly able to get their hands on everything in sight, whether it was a tip to a teammate or getting up on the glass, Pittsburgh clearly won the battle of the boards. The Panthers ended up grabbing 40 caroms compared to 31 for Wisconsin. The more important statistic, though, was Pittsburgh's 15 offensive rebounds, resulting in 14 second-chance points. The offensive rebounds also helped the Panthers pound the Badgers in the paint, 32-12.
"They did a heck of a job going to the boards," Wilkinson said. "It wasn't just one person, it was everyone. One person never really grabbed it from the start. It was always chipped and then they corralled it from there. Those are the rebounds that are tough because you're getting hands on it and then all of a sudden they come up with it. It's second chances, especially against big physical teams, that wears you down a little bit more."
It is not often that the Badgers are out-rebounded. Wisconsin entered the game averaging 2.9 rebounds more than its opponents and Pittsburgh's 40 rebounds were just one shy of a Badgers' opponents' season high.
Pitt got strong rebounding out of three players in particular. Junior forward Chevon Troutman's 14 is the most any player grabbed against Wisconsin all season. Guards Carl Krauser and Brown added eight and six, respectively.
Even if shots were not falling in the closing minutes for Wisconsin, ultimately the Badgers lost the game due to Pitt's persistent rebounding on both ends of the court.
"They did a good job of working hard and never quitting," Wilkinson said. "It's something everyone tries to do but they did a good job and we just needed to make them work a little harder and hopefully we could have worn them out a little bit more. We have to give them credit, they kept going."
Panthers stronger down the stretch
Morley's good work goes unrewarded
Badgers lose battle of the boards
Photo gallery 1 - Matthew Kutz
Photo gallery 2 - Getty Images
Photo gallery 3 - Associated Press
Pittsburgh 59, Wisconsin 55 - line score