Defensive Catalyst

Unlike their previous meeting, senior Michael Flowers struggled to contain hot-shooting senior Drew Neitzel all afternoon. But as fate would have it, Flowers got the last laugh with a brilliant defense play that he's made look routine.

INDIANAPOLIS — Although ‘team' has always presided over ‘individual' on the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team, Michael Flowers swears that he enjoys his personal rivalry with Drew Neitzel that has been so well-documented during their four-year careers at Wisconsin and Michigan State, respectively.

That's probably because Flowers tends to win most of those one-on-one confrontations. What Flowers will try to forget about Saturday's 65-63 comeback win over Michigan State is that for about 30 minutes, he received a free clinic from the Spartans' flashy sharpshooter.

But what transpired in the last 30 seconds is what Flowers will remember as the perfect representation of how this rivalry has played out, in what will likely be its final chapter.

No pleasantries were necessary or even exchanged in pre-game introductions; Neitzel was so focused, he could barely make eye contact with Flowers during the captains' talk or the mid-court meeting before tipoff.

Turns out, Neitzel was mentally dialing in.

"I knew if Drew makes his first shot, I'm in for a long night," Flowers explained. "He came out, and guess what he did? He made his first shot."

Neitzel proceeded to put on a clinic, scoring 26 points and even drawing a couple of early fouls on Flowers, sending UW's best defender to the bench for the last eight minutes of the first half.

"I tended to be more aggressive than normal, and that backfired," Flowers said. "I didn't want to be the reason that we went home."

Flowers reentered the game with more focus, but Neitzel kept firing away with five more points to bring his total to 23 with 10 minutes to go. Flowers' sidekick guard, Trevon Hughes, had just left the game with a left ankle injury, and Michigan State had a ten-point lead.

But after that, Neitzel virtually disappeared, with just one three-point play in the final ten minutes. Meanwhile, the Spartan big men all started to foul out, and UW got back in the game with some free throws, but also by finally starting to his some shots.

Then, with 30 seconds left, Flowers finally delivered the final blow. With the teams tied at 63-all, MSU guard Kalin Lucas sent a pass toward Neitzel. The eternally pesky Flowers jumped in and tipped the ball away.

The two seniors raced for the ball. Flowers caught up to it, and with Neitzel breathing down his neck, Flowers ran the length of the floor and skied for a driving layup to give UW its largest lead of the game: two points.

"I knew that toward the end of the game, with a player like Drew Neitzel, they were looking for him," Flowers said. "I was over-pressuring him and the pass came. I tipped it, and just ran as fast as I could for the layup."

Neitzel then had a chance to win the game with a semi-open look at a three at the buzzer, but wasn't able to come up with the shot.

"I just wanted to be aggressive," Neitzel said of the individual matchup with Flowers. "I didn't want to let him take me out of the game."

When nobody could grab the rebound before the buzzer sounded, most of the Badgers on the court and on the bench jumped up and down celebrating the joyful win.

Most Badgers, that is, except Flowers. He celebrated with a quiet grin of satisfaction that slowly crept across his face, as he had once again gotten the better of his adversary.

"In order to be the best, you have to play the best," Flowers said. "Drew is as good a point guard as you're going to get at the collegiate game, and so playing him has helped my game out tremendously."

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