Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan was less emphatic in his praise, but was similarly impressed with his senior forward, who led the Badgers' domination of the paint in a 72-61 Wisconsin win at Michigan's Crisler Arena Saturday.
"He seems to set the tone a lot of times," Ryan said. "Mike Wilkinson's the same young man that's been plugging along in this league for this his fourth year. I've always said how much we appreciate him. I think other people are noticing the same thing."
Wilkinson scored 28 points, one short of a career high set just 11 days ago, and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds. He scored from the post, on the drive, and on perimeter jump shots, including a 3-pointer that capped the Badgers 11-2 run to start the second half, giving UW a 48-34 lead with 15:31 left in the game.
At that point Wilkinson had 23 of the Badgers' 48 points; he had 18 of 37 at halftime and scored 11 of UW's first 17.
"He was maybe flawless," Amaker said. "I'm not sure if I've used that word before with a player…He was flawless in his play."
"I'll bet when you go the film there are going to be a couple things we can help Mike with," Ryan said. "Flawless I'll never say. But a great performance, magnificent job? Yes. That's as good I've seen."
Wilkinson was not quite perfect. He did miss two first-half field goals, finishing 9 of 11 from the field. And he missed two free throws, finishing 8 of 10 from the line.
But aside from those nit-picky caveats, Wilkinson could make a good case for perfection. He was exceptional Saturday, posing problems for the Wolverines wherever he caught the ball. The only time Michigan slowed Wilkinson down was when he picked up his third foul with 12:14 left to play and sat for four minutes, 13 seconds.
The Badgers, though, actually built upon their lead in that span, going from a 50-40 edge when Wilkinson left to a 58-46 lead when he returned.
Senior center Andreas Helmigk played well in Wilkinson's absence, scoring four of the Badgers' eight points in the span. Helmigk, who started in place of senior forward Zach Morley, finished with eight points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
UW sophomore forward Alando Tucker was in the starting lineup Saturday and played 23 minutes despite only practicing in a limited capacity for the second consecutive week due to a right foot injury. Tucker was limited to four points on 0 for 9 shooting but contributed 11 rebounds and three assists.
"You don't have to score to be effective," Wilkinson said of Tucker's performance. "He really helped us on the defensive end and getting defensive rebounds. That's what we need, just getting contributions any way for anybody that we can get. His offensive numbers weren't there but he does so much for this team other than score."
Wisconsin abused Michigan on the glass, out-rebounding the Wolverines 47-32, including a 15-9 edge in offensive rebounds.
"We couldn't keep them off the backboard this game," Amaker said.
Wisconsin (13-3 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) won its third consecutive game and its first at Crisler since 2001. The Badgers were 1-19 in their last 20 trips to Ann Arbor prior to Saturday. The Wolverines (12-7 overall, 3-2) suffered their second consecutive loss after falling to Indiana Jan. 19.
"It doesn't matter too much what I do as long as we get the win," Wilkinson said. "This is the first time I've won up here personally…I'm just happy to get a victory."
Wilkinson scored five points in a 9-0 UW run to give the Badgers a 9-2 lead early in the first half. Michigan, though, used a 14-4 run to take a 16-13 lead with 10:43 left in the first half.
The Wolverines took their largest lead of the game when sophomore guard Dion Harris hit a 3-pointer 2:15 later to make it 21-17. Harris and backcourt mate Daniel Horton combined to shoot 11 of 35 from the field and 4 of 13 from beyond the arc, each scoring 16 points.
"We know as far as range Horton and Harris can hit those shots," Ryan said. "When they don't go down it makes it tougher."
Michigan forward Brent Petway came off the bench to contribute a double-double 10 points and 10 rebounds and blocked five shots. Center Courtney Sims added 10 points and four blocks, but all the rejections could not keep Wisconsin from pounding the ball inside and scoring 28 points in the paint.
In addition to Wilkinson, the Badgers' only double-figure scorer was sophomore guard Kammron Taylor, who had 13 points off the bench.
Taylor scored five points in a one-minute, 49-second span late in the first half, his transition, pull-up jumper in the lane giving the Badgers a 30-28 lead with 3:40 left to play.
Horton tied the game 32 seconds later, but Wilkinson's first 3-pointer of the game kicked off a 7-2 UW run to close out the first half.
After playing a leading role in each game during the Badgers' current 3-game winning streak and earning co-Big Ten player of the week last week, a reporter asked Ryan if Wilkinson was the best player in the Big Ten.
"I like to have him on my team," Ryan said. "I like the decisions that he makes. I like the work ethic. So if he's being considered for something like that at the end, he could care less. He just is going to think about Illinois now because that's our next opponent. That's just the way he is."
"I always root for my guys but I root for the team," Ryan said. "If people think that he's one of the better players in the league I would say they're right."
Said Amaker: "You have to take your hat off to a kid like Mike Wilkinson, who we knew coming into the game was one of, if not the best, player in the conference. He certainly had a career game this afternoon."