In the rubber match between the conference's two elite teams on Sunday afternoon, Mike Conley Jr. showed that he could do just that.
Conley did everything right for the Buckeyes when their offense sputtered and kept their offense on the accelerator when it flourished, helping the Big Ten Champion Buckeyes add to their trophy case with a thorough 66-49 beating of No.3 Wisconsin, winning their first tournament title.
When Conley didn't score, he was passing and when he wasn't dishing assists, he was creating steals. Playing 35 minutes, Conley shot 7-for-14 for a game-high 18 points and eight assists, six rebounds and two steals. Although Wisconsin held Greg Oden scoreless in the first half, UW couldn't stop the freshman guard from creating easy baskets.
"Conley played the floor game better than we did," head coach Bo Ryan said. "The quickness of Conley with the ball was a pretty big factor of how things turned out how they did."
"He's the key to their team," Kammron Taylor said. "He runs the show and he did a great job of doing that today."
Wisconsin (29-5) was put behind the eight ball right from the start, letting the Buckeyes (30-3) dictate a fast pace and jump out to an 11-4 lead nine minutes in. Although the Badgers repeatedly cut the led to four, Wisconsin didn't give itself any breaks by playing out of character.
Wisconsin turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, shot 1-for-9 from three-point distance and Alando Tucker didn't score his first bucket until 3:39 remaining in the first half. When it rained, it poured on Wisconsin, as the Badgers finished with 17 total miscues and a 4-for-23 total from three-point range.
"Early, we didn't establish a rhythm," Tucker said. "They were tough defensively, throwing different match ups and zones at us. With Oden, their guards can push up against us a little more. It's tough playing a team like that from behind."
"In the first half, we were a half click behind on pass and catch," Ryan added. "Twelve turnovers are 12 shots you don't get in the paint and don't get offensive rebounds. That's way too many and you end up paying for it in the end."
Wisconsin's second-half start didn't help UW much either. Within a blink of the eye, Wisconsin went from down six to down 11, as Greg Oden scored four straight Buckeye points in the paint. When the Badgers found some rhythm and rattled off a 9-2 run to get the pro-Wisconsin crowd back into the game, Conley helped orchestrate an 18-6 run as the lead ballooned to 19 and sealed the victory.
"[Conley] took all of us on his back," Oden said. "Mike told me that he's going to do everything he needed to do to put us in the position to win. He controlled everything when we needed a bucket and he kept us all following him."
Wisconsin's senior duo of Taylor and Tucker led the Badgers, but got little support from anyone else. Taylor finished with a team-high 15 points and Tucker added 10, finishing the game 4-for-13 from the field against the Buckeyes' stifling defense and retreated to the bench with 3:22 left to go.
"There are certain things they can do knowing that Oden is back there taking care of the rest," Ryan said. "Everything was really flat [and] that's why I took Alando out. He works so hard all the time and three straight games like that are pretty tough on a guy that does all the things that he does."
Conley's outburst came as a surprise to Wisconsin's guards, especially with how things were going in the tournament. Although not playing against the best guard-oriented teams in the conference, Wisconsin had shut down its opponent's backcourts to near perfection and struggled guarding the frontcourt players. Against the Buckeyes, however, Wisconsin let the Buckeye guards score 49 points, matching Wisconsin's total scoring output.
"They have a lot of athletes on that team and they like to get up and down," Taylor said. "I think the first two times that we played them, we controlled that. [Today], we let that get away from us. Today we allowed them to get out and get on a break."
The season isn't over for the Badgers, however, as Wisconsin learned that they will be returning back to Chicago next Friday as the No.2 seed in the Midwest regional. For the Big Ten Player of the Year, it's a good opportunity to get back on the United Center court with Wisconsin having a chip on its shoulder.
"We're glad that we have another game to make up for tonight," Tucker said. "We have to be prepared to play our next game."
2007 All-Tournament Team
Most Outstanding Player: Greg Oden, Ohio State
Mike Conley Jr., Ohio State
Alando Tucker, Wisconsin
Kammron Taylor, Wisconsin
Carl Landry, Purdue