It was the oddest place for Wisconsin to start finding its groove shooting the basketball
The Badgers found their niche from distance, turned up the pressure defensively on the 21st-ranked team in the country and left the island of Maui with a third-place finish in the ultra-challenging EA Sports Maui Invitational with a 78-69 victory over Maryland Wednesday.
"You're playing well represented conference teams and coaches that have been through a lot of this stuff," said UW coach Bo Ryan, as the Badgers (4-1) beat an ACC Conference team for the third straight team. "When you leave there you've got to learn from these. We learned positives and negatives. We'll have to eliminate the negatives and increase the positives."
After struggling with the late turnaround against a rested Gonzaga team, Wisconsin, searching for its highest finish at the tournament, found its stroke from distance (10-of-22, 45.5 percent) and hit 16-of-20 free throws (80 percent).
But what will make the flight home better for Ryan were the Badgers making amends for last night's problems in the paint. After getting badly out rebounded, dominated in points in the paint and shutout in fast-break points, Wisconsin won the rebounding battle 33-28, out scored Maryland 36-32 in the paint and scored 10 points on the fast break.
"Every once in awhile, I could be right," Ryan said about finally hitting shots. "It's like flipping a coin. Whoever hits the outside shot is going to be the winner and that was us tonight."
Responding to the Maryland (4-2) early run of the Terrapins hitting their first four shots, Wisconsin churned out a 16-2 run that answered the initial punch, something UW never could do during Gonzaga's 16-1 run in the semifinals.
It was a theme that transpired all afternoon and the Lahaina Civic Center, as the Badgers kept shooting and hitting, finishing with a 49 percent shooting percentage from the field, a high for UW during the three-day tournament.
Senior guard Jason Bohannon, who had struggled mightily in the season's early going, had a game-high and tied his career high with 20 points, including hitting 4-of-5 three-point attempts and 6-of-6 from the free throw line, junior Jon Leuer, a night after scoring 18, added 16 points and seven rebounds and Trevon Hughes added 14.
Maryland had four players reach double figures, led by 18 points from senior Greivis Vazquez (10 of which came in the final minutes with UW holding a 12-point lead), but only got nine points from its bench. Maryland shot 48.2 percent overall (27-of-56) and 38.5 percent from 3-point range (5-of-13).
After shooting 18-of-74 (24.3 percent) from three-point range in the first four games, mildly frustrating Ryan that UW couldn't convert on its looks, the Badgers responded with a 7-of-12 three-point shooting performance in the first half, including 3 threes from Hughes and a pair from Bohannon.
When the smoke cleared, the Badgers hit a season high from three-point range.
"What hurt us today is that they shot 10 for 22 on their threes, combined with us shooting 10 for 17 on free throws," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "That combination in a game like that isn't good."
After giving up 74 points to Gonzaga the night before, the Badgers found its defensive prowess, limiting a Maryland squad that returned four starters to only 2-of-10 shooting during its 16-2 run over a 6 minutes, 7 second span.
"A couple guys looked like they were a step off," said Ryan of his substitutions after the 7-0, replacing starters Bohannon, Leuer and Keaton Nankivil with sophomore guard Jordan Taylor, redshirt freshman Jared Berggren and freshman Mike Bruesewitz. "Sometimes your alarm clock goes out differently, so we brought in three new guys. I don't stay mad for long."
After the Terrapins responded to take a 22-21 lead, Wisconsin had another counter punch in them, engineering an 11-1 run complete with three pointers from Hughes, Bohannon and a three-point play from Rob Wilson, that put UW back in command until the end, as UW held a 12-point cushion with less than six minutes to go and never faltered, making 9-of-10 free throws over the final 5:32.
"This group is willing to commit, and there's a difference from being involved and being committed is you look looking at a breakfast of bacon and eggs," Ryan said. "If you look at the egg, you know the chicken was involved. You look at the bacon and you know the pig was committed. I think my guys are committed … it doesn't mean they are pigs."
For the third night in a row, the opposing head coach thought Wisconsin looked like a tournament team.
"Wisconsin will certainly be a factor," Williams said. "It's kind of funny, you hear a lot of teams being talked about, but you don't always hear Wisconsin. They show up every year in the NCAA tournament and I'm sure they will back there again this year."
A third-place finish in the prestigious tournament and a win over a ranked opponent will certainly go a long way in ensuring that.