Not in a Sharing Mood

Senior Brian Butch scores 20 points and grabs 14 rebounds as No.10 Wisconsin wraps up the outright Big Ten conference title with a 65-52 win over Northwestern.

EVANSTON, Ill. – Having been a witness to the defensive battle that usually occurs in Evanston over the past five seasons, senior Brian Butch knew what he and tenth-ranked Wisconsin needed to do in order to finish off the conference race.

With the way things played out and the snow falling outside, it was only fitting that Wisconsin's ‘polar bear' flourished in the environment.

Relying heavily on pounding the ball into the paint and getting production in the blocks, Butch led all scorers with 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds - his fifth double-double of the season - in leading UW to a 65-52 victory, wrapping up its outright conference title in a typical, old-fashioned Big Ten basketball game.

With the win, Wisconsin (26-4, 16-2) clinches the No.1 seed in the conference tournament, playing Friday morning at 11 a.m. Central in Indianapolis.

"We did an excellent job of closing it out," Butch said. "We knew what we had to do, we got it done and it was a great feeling to close it out like that. It speaks volumes of this team and what we want to do."

It also spoke volumes of how Badger fans have embraced this team. Playing in an arena with a listed attendance of 8,117, an estimated 5,500 Wisconsin fans packed the building from wall to wall and were vocally present throughout the game.

"To see as many fans that were here today, it was almost like a home game," Butch said. "To celebrate an outright championship in that way is pretty cool."

Thanks to Butch, Wisconsin's fans had plenty to cheer about. The fifth-year senior scored 11 points in the first half, shot 8-for-9 for the game from inside the perimeter, grabbed 12 defensive rebounds and went 4-for-6 from the free throw line in one of his more productive games of his career.

"Brian has been very effective for us and pretty consistent this year," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "For him to finish the regular season this way for him as a senior, it's very appropriate for Brian Butch to close it out this way."

But seldom things go Wisconsin's way when they travel to Northwestern (UW was 35-37 all time in Evanston and Bo Ryan was only 2-3 entering the game), as the Wildcats' 1-3-1 zone makes for a grind-them-out offensive struggle, which the Badgers succumbed to early on.

Allowing Northwestern (8-21, 1-17) to stay within two possessions through the first 15 and half minutes, Wisconsin outscored Northwestern 28-9 over the next 15 minutes, turning a one point lead into an 18-point cushion.

Most importantly, however, was Wisconsin going on an 8-0 tun to end the first off, capped off by Jason Bohannon (15 points) making a layup at the buzzer to give UW a 29-20 led heading into the locker room.

"We did not get away from what we've done," Butch said. "When we do get away from what we do, we aren't that good. We struggled early but we got back to what we normally do. We don't have one guy that you can key on and that explains the end of the first half."

While continuing their offensive push, the Badgers found ways to make sure they closed out the Wildcats.

A trademark of a Bo Ryan-coached team, the Badgers were aggressive on the boards, using their height to an advantage, and shot more free throws than their opponents attempted.

Out rebounding Northwestern by a margin of 38-21, the Wildcats only shot eight free throws (NU first attempt came at the 14:48 mark of the second half) while the Badgers went 15-for-22 from the free throw line.

The 17-point rebounding advantage helped Wisconsin score 34 points in the paint, 14 second-chance points and limit Northwestern to only five put back points.

"Some teams you can show them what to do (defensively) and they don't quite catch on or not quite good enough to cut a net down," Ryan said. "This group gave themselves a chance to be champs in the Big Ten. You have to have a tough exterior but, more importantly, backed by the interior. This is what (we've) hung our hats on."

A 24-year veteran of college basketball and the head coach of three national champions at the Division III level, Ryan has been around many basketball teams in his storied career. It can be safe to assume that this year's Wisconsin team has been one he is most proud of.

From being brought to near tears Wednesday to shaking hands with fans post game Saturday, Ryan has coached a team with uncertain expectations into conference champions.

"I never compare teams but as satisfying as a group comes, this group has come as far as any team I have ever had," Ryan said. "The first season is over and there's one team that stands alone. That team is in the visitor's locker room and it feels pretty good."

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