Badgers focus on the paint

Wisconsin makes a living inside against aggressive Michigan defense

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Officially, the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team scored 28 points in the paint in its 72-61 win over Michigan here Saturday.

In reality, the Badgers' offense operated almost entirely by way of the paint. Wisconsin set the tempo by taking the ball to the lane aggressively, forcing the Wolverines anxious, aggressive defenders into foul trouble.

"That's the down side of applying pressure," said Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, who employed a full court press or half court trap for most of the game. "People are going to try to go by because they have someone closely guarding. Our rotations were very slow to get there and give help. I though that helped them early in the game."

The Badgers' first 19 points Saturday were either scored in the paint, off free throws earned in the paint or from passes delivered from the paint. Freshman Brian Butch's jumper with 6:13 left in the first half snapped that string.

"You don't want to come out even though you are on the road and be tentative because a lot of teams are going to jump on that," sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "I think that's what cost us in some road games this year. We weren't being aggressive. We came out this game and we were pretty aggressive."

Early in the game Wisconsin took a particular interest in getting the ball inside to sophomore forward Alando Tucker, who struggled to make field goals against double and triple teams in the post. Tucker was 0 of 9 from the field, including an 0 of 6 performance in the first half, but was very active on the glass, grabbing 11 boards while playing 23 minutes on a still-injured right foot.

"That's why he was able to get on the floor was because of that number right there (the 11 rebounds) and a few more assists," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Because he still wants to play. He is not where he needs to be on the finishes, which he knows and he didn't try to force as much there in the second half, but he can still contribute to the team."

Senior forward Mike Wilkinson added a career-high 15 rebounds, helping the Badgers out-rebound Michigan 47-32, including a 15-9 edge on the offensive glass.

"If you look at this game and break down each one of those [offensive rebounds] I have a feeling we were the beneficiaries of a couple tip-tips," Ryan said. "Like just out of the reach [of Michigan]….but we were opportunistic."

The Wolverines successfully collapsed on Tucker in the post but could not control Wilkinson, who scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the paint. Wilkinson also made 8 of 10 free throws, leading the Badgers to a 26 of 33 performance from the line.

Wisconsin was aggressive offensively despite the presence of Michigan sophomore shot blockers Courtney Sims and Brent Petway, who combined for nine rejections. It is debatable how effective the blocks were, however. Petway had two highlight reel rejections in rapid succession in one first-half stretch, for instance, but the Badgers retained possession, with Tucker drawing a foul on Petway and making a pair of free throws.

And no matter how often Sims and Petway altered shots, the Badgers continued punching the ball inside.

"You always want to get the ball in the post," Wilkinson said. "It always starts in there."

That certainly was the case Saturday.

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