Saturday, December 7, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: Wisconsin regains I-94 supremacy, holds off visiting Marquette

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No. 8 Wisconsin 70, Marquette 64

For perhaps the first time all season, the new look, high-flying Badgers looked like the Wisconsin of old, scoring a 48-38 victory in Charlottesville on Wednesday. In the first half of this afternoon's game against the visiting 5-3 Marquette Golden Eagles, it appeared as if Bo Ryan's squad was in for another hammer fight of a basketball game. 

Hampered by foul trouble --Frank Kaminsky (2), Traveon Jackson (2) and Nigel Hayes (2)-- the Badgers, already thin in the front court, were forced to deploy backups Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon. 

Even so, Marquette wasn't able to take advantage of UW's foul issues. Wisconsin got to the half up 28-25, paced by 13 points from sophomore Sam Dekker, including a monstrous dunk near the end of the half to energize the Kohl Center crowd. Despite sitting at 9-0 with a shiny top 10 ranking, this game meant a little something extra for the Badgers, who had lost two in a row to their in-state rivals (including a loss in the Kohl Center two years ago, ending a 23-game UW home winning streak). 

Unfortunately for Marquette, a violation of team rules sidelined 6-foot-3 junior guard Todd Mayo, MU's third leading scorer (10.0 ppg). Without him, the Golden Eagles found the offensive end tough sledding. F Davante Gardner managed nine points in the first half, but MU struggled to get much production elsewhere. 

As of six minutes into the second half, the Golden Eagles were shooting just 37.1 percent from the field (13-for-35); not quite as bad as MU's afternoon against Ohio State, but not good any way you slice it. 

In the face of questions regarding Wisconsin's defense --which has been good but not elite as it has typically been under Ryan-- the Badgers have put the clamps down this week against UVA and MU. Bo Ryan's squad has surprised some folks (myself included) with respect to its ability to push the pace this season, but this week has represented quite the return to the old style of Wisconsin basketball everyone has come to know. In case watching a Badgers squad execute in transition has been especially disorienting for you, it appears as if they may be returning to a more familiar style of play as we approach Big Ten play. 

The Badgers began to pull away in the opening 10 minutes of the second half, jumping to a 44-36 lead by the 12-minute mark. 

MU's Jamil Wilson buried a jumper to cut the lead to eight, putting himself in the double-digits in points (10), joining Gardner in that category. However, save for eight points from C Chris Otule, MU continued to get little else from the supporting cast. The five guards logging playing time for the Golden Eagles tallied just five points among them through 30 minutes. Against a team with a stacked back court like Wisconsin, it's difficult to be in a position to win with that sort of production (or lack thereof). 

The Badgers responded to Wilson's jumper with an alley oop dunk to Dekker, then a forced turnover on the defensive end. Wilson responded with two more points, and, as if on cue, Dekker nailed a triple from the corner on the heels of a loose ball situation. 

Like I said about the Michigan-Duke game on Tuesday, even when the score appears close by the box score, good teams provide a response when necessary, even if they aren't playing especially well overall. Playing at a place like the Kohl Center, that sort of auto-response from a home favorite can be demoralizing. 

It seemed as if MU would never string together a series of buckets and stops to make it a game; yet, somehow, the Badgers couldn't quite put them away. A 3-point play from MU's Otule cut the lead to six with 2:53 to play, giving the Golden Eagles real hope for the first time since the first half. 

The Golden Eagles got the stop they needed on the ensuing possession, then Wilson buried a triple from the right side, cutting the deficit to three. The positive feelings from that sequence, however, were short-lived. 

Once again, UW answered, this time with a Kaminsky triple from the top of the key. Wilson's 3-point attempt at the other end landed off the mark, ushering in the desperation fouling portion of the game. 

The Golden Eagles hung in the game far longer than it appeared like they should have. Regardless, the Badgers made more plays down the stretch than did Marquette, and that is, ultimately, what won the day for the still undefeated Badgers. 

With the the 70-64 victory, the Badgers moved to 10-0 on the season, an incredible start featuring several quality wins. In addition, the Badgers snapped a 2-game losing streak against their in-state rival. 

Wisconsin returns to the Kohl Center on Wednesday for what might be a tricky game against the 8-2 Milwaukee Panthers of the Horizon League. 

Meanwhile, Marquette falls to a disappointing 5-4 on the season, with four games remaining on its nonconference schedule. Buzz Williams' squad has some work to do if it is going to climb out of the bottom half of the standings in the new Big East. 

But, as all college basketball fans say following a loss at this point in the season: It's only December.

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