Although the home team feeds off the crowd, the crowd often first needs a boost from the team to get into the game. Saturday's dreary weather and the fact that many Kohl Center regulars had headed out of town for the holidays seemed to take the energy out of the crowd.
That changed five minutes into the game after a highlight-reel play from freshman forward Jon Leuer. As Wisconsin trailed Valparaiso by eight, Leuer got the ball on the left wing off a bounce pass from Joe Krabbenhoft. He drove baseline, and taking off of one foot from well outside the left block, Leuer slammed the ball home with two hands over multiple Crusader defenders. Those two points were the beginning of a 22-6 run for the Badgers.
Later in the game, the Badgers, on the court and in the stands, needed another big play. With just over two minutes remaining in the game and the score tied at 54, the Badger offense looked in disarray. Point guard Trevon Hughes received the ball on the left wing, dribbled to the top of the key, pulled up, and drained a contested 20 footer to give Wisconsin their first lead of the half.
"I think the whole key came when Hughes hit that three-point shot when the score was tied," Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit because it was a deep three, it was a step-back three, and he buried it."
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan had a different opinion about the shot.
"Was that a key play? I thought it was a good substitution. That was when I had just put him back in," Ryan joked.
All joking aside, it took more than just big plays to reverse Wisconsin's fortune. Ryan made a number of tactical adjustments and substitutions to counter the different defensive looks shown by Valparaiso's coach Homer Drew. The Badgers struggled early in large part due to changing defenses including a mix of half-court man-to-man, full-court 2-2-1 zone, and half-court 1-3-1 zone.
"There were some things that I have not seen [from our team]," Ryan said. "So that must mean that Valpo was taking some things away."
Perhaps the most critical change Ryan made, however, came on the defensive end. Coming off a game in which he shot 10-12 from three point range, Valparaiso sophomore Samuel Haanpaa started 3-3 from the field including 2-2 from downtown. He scored 10 of his team's first 13 points before the Badgers began face-guarding him and denying him the ball.
Foul trouble also played a big role in the Badger victory. Already giving up considerable height to Wisconsin, Valparaiso lost one of their key big men, 6-foot-11 Brian Bouchie, to fouls with 10 minutes remaining in the contest. Later, one of the Crusader's leading scorers, 6-foot-9 Urule Igbavboa, was also sent to the bench with five fouls.
"The physicality inside wore us down, especially when we fouled out our two big post people. That had an effect on us," Drew said. "Then we had to rely on more outside than we wanted. That [also] did hurt our inside help-side defense a great deal."
The disqualifications of these players also allowed Ryan to go to a three or even four guard lineup to better handle Valpo's full-court pressure in the waning minutes, without having to worry about getting beaten on the glass.
Another huge reason for the Badgers' success was Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin's do-it-all junior. The crafty swing-man from South Dakota finished three assists shy of a triple-double (11 points, 11 rebounds, 7 assists). He also added two steals in 33 minutes of play. Even more impressively Krabbenhoft managed this production while being one of the committee of Badgers assigned to the task of face-guarding Haanpaa.
On a night when the Kohl Center faithful needed a bit extra motivation, they got it, and they returned the favor by lifting their Badgers to victory.