Badgers Two Wins Away from History

With a record-breaking defeat over Michigan, the Badgers have moved just two wins away from back-to-back Big Ten regular season championships, for the first time at Wisconsin since 1923-24.

With two more victories, the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team can accomplish something that hasn't been done since peach buckets were used as baskets.

With a 73-42 victory over Michigan Wednesday night at the Kohl Center, the Badgers moved into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, controlling their own destiny with just two regular season games remaining.

The 31-point differential was the largest Wisconsin victory over Michigan in the 139 meetings between the two teams.

Mike Wilkinson led the Badgers with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while Kirk Penney had 15 points and Alando Tucker finished with a double-double, contributing 12 points and a team-high 10 rebounds.

With victories over Minnesota and Illinois, Wisconsin (20-6, 10-4 Big Ten) would clinch back-to-back Big Ten regular season championships for the first time since 1923-24.

"This is where you want to be, controlling your own destiny," said Penney. "It doesn't matter what other people do. We just have to take care of our business. It's (every team's) goal to be where we are right now."

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan hopes to add his second league championship in just two years as the head coach in Madison. The Badgers are undefeated in Big Ten action at the Kohl Center under his direction, winning 15 consecutive home conference games and 24 of their last 25.

"I don't know what else we could do," Ryan said. "(We seemed) to do everything well. Our guys played off one another, played with one another, we played to one another…on our end it was a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that came together in 40 minutes. The pieces fit."

Michigan (16-10, 9-4 Big Ten) has experienced a season of drastic streaks. After starting the season 0-6, the Wolverines stormed onto the national scene with 13 consecutive wins. But having lost four of their last seven games, Michigan lost its stranglehold on first place in the league.

The Wolverines never established a rhythm offensively, unable to penetrate Wisconsin's smothering man-to-man defense. Forced into tough shots and getting few second-chance opportunities, Michigan shot just 31 percent from the floor. Wisconsin hit 53 percent of its attempts.

Bernard Robinson and Lester Abram led Michigan with 14 points apiece. But the Wolverines were hurt by a miserable performance from freshman Daniel Horton, who has been mentioned as a potential Big Ten Player of the Year. Horton hit just 1-of-11 shots for two points, missing all eight of his 3-point attempts.

It was a stark contrast to his contributions seven days earlier at Purdue, when his 31-point display led the Wolverines to a road upset and earned him conference Player of the Week honors.

The Wolverines had a bye between the two games, and appeared to be rusty from the get-go.

"You'd think having some time off would be (beneficial)," Michigan Coach Tommy Amaker said. "But our rhythm wasn't there and we were out of sync. Our time off could have worked against us."

While Horton missed some open looks, the credit for his poor performance belongs to Wisconsin guard Devin Harris, who shut down the Wolverine star with solid defense on every possession.

"We knew watching film that he is the head of their monster, and if he doesn't play well then the team tends to struggle," Harris said.

The Badgers turned the first place showdown into a laugher midway through the second half with an 18-4 run, punctuated by a Wilkinson layup with 5:53 remaining to give Wisconsin a 59-34 lead.

Following three turnovers in the first eight minutes of the game, the Badgers coughed it up just three times the remainder of the contest. Wisconsin has committed just 35 turnovers in its last five games. The Badgers are second best in the nation in that category, averaging just 10.6 per contest.

After a sluggish start for both teams, Wisconsin took a 31-20 advantage at halftime with a hot shooting streak midway through the half. The teams were tied 7-7 before consecutive 3-pointers by Freddie Owens, Kirk Penney and Devin Harris gave Wisconsin a 16-7 lead at the 9:20 mark.

Both teams hit just three of their first 11 shot attempts, but Wisconsin buried six of its next seven field goals to take a 23-11 advantage with 6:42 remaining in the half.

The Wolverines shot just 35 percent from the floor in the first half, with only two offensive rebounds. Michigan had trouble getting looks inside because of the physical presence of Wilkinson, one of the top interior defenders in the league.

Each team only shot two free throws in the first 20 minutes, with the Big Ten officials allowing the teams to battle it out inside. That trend didn't continue following the break, with the teams combining for 17 attempts from the charity stripe.

Michigan returns home to face No. 18 Illinois Saturday afternoon, while Wisconsin will play its final regular season road game of the year Sunday afternoon at Minnesota.

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