Stiemsma, Flowers provide boost

True freshmen filled roles as defensive stoppers in the first half

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Needing a defensive pickup Sunday afternoon, University of Wisconsin men's basketball coach Bo Ryan looked deep along his bench and pulled a pair of true freshmen out of his hat. Greg Stiemsma, a little-used center, and Michael Flowers, a guard who saw his minutes drop precipitously when the NCAA Tournament began, played very well against North Carolina's top two scorers.

For the last three minutes of the first half, Stiemsma drew the tall task of defending 6-foot-9, 260-pound center Sean May, who had manhandled UW to the tune of 16 first-half points, including eight of UNC's first 10.

"We needed the strongest guy that we had on the bench," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "So I bypassed [Andreas] Helmigk, [Brian] Butch, [Jason] Chappell and looked to Stiemsma… His presence was pretty good.'

May did most of his damage against 6-8 senior forward Mike Wilkinson, who played sound positional defense but was not big or strong enough to keep May from getting the shots he wanted on the block.

The much less experienced Stiemsma handled the challenge with aplomb. The Randolph, Wis., native's 6-11 length certainly helped, forcing May out of his comfort zone. Because of his size, Stiemsma played behind May, whereas the shorter Wilkinson tried to aggressively deny entry passes and at times was sealed off when the feed was successful.

"They kind of warned me about it yesterday that we might try the defensive scheme where they just put me behind him, get a hand up in his face," Stiemsma said. "I think [Ryan] just wanted to put a little bigger body on him with a little more size and length. Just throw him off his rhythm a little bit. He was hitting everything that first half."

May did not look for his shot as much against Stiemsma, missing a short jumper on his only attempt against him.

Stiemsma also contributed offensively, receiving a pass on the right block from a driving Wilkinson and laying it in to make it 44-35 UNC. That bucket started an 11-0 run that tied it at 44-44 at halftime.

"He played real hard," Wilkinson said. "He came in and played good defense on May. Finished on a layup. He contributed."

Stiemsma's performance was not flawless. He was late switching on a screen at the top of the key, allowing UNC an open 3-pointer, though the shot went awry.

All things considered, however, it was a very good few minutes for Stiemsma, playing against a top-notch center like May.

"He's definitely one of the best post players in the nation," Stiemsma said of May. "It was definitely a challenge but I'm not going to back down from a challenge. To be one of the best you've got to play against the best."

Flowers entered the game with 9:45 left in the first half and went to work on Rashad McCants, a 6-4 swingman who had scored 8 of his 10 first-half points at the juncture. UNC went right to McCants on the ensuing possession, and Flowers held his ground, forcing a wild shot and grabbing the defensive rebound.

Flowers averaged 9.6 minutes in 27 games prior to the NCAA Tournament and Wisconsin often summoned him to provide energy on defensive end of the floor. The 6-2 Madison native, however, had played just seven minutes in three previous NCAA Tournament games, before playing five minutes Sunday.

Stiemsma averaged just 2.7 minutes in the nine previous games, including an eight-minute season high.

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