Ryan Evans slams home two points for the Badgers. Evans nailed a late back-breaking jumper to help Wisconsin snatch a key road win. - Joe Robbins
Wisconsin defense fuels upset victory
Sometimes, it's just not your day.
Wisconsin came in to Assembly Hall, held Indiana to 37 percent shooting and knocked off the No. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, Tuesday night, putting the Badgers in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.
"We just weren't moving the ball like we should have, like we do," Indiana coach Tom Crean said in his postgame press conference, according to IUHoosiers.com, "and I think when we see the film we'll see that it's not as much them as it was us. I'm not taking anything away from them. They played well."
One of these years, I swear I won't be surprised by Wisconsin. I promise.
To me, there are two plays that summarize this game.
The first: With Assembly Hall rocking on the heels of a 10-1 Indiana run and Wisconsin clinging to a 52-51 lead with 4:08 to play, the Hoosiers play 25 seconds of good defense -- which happened a lot tonight -- and force a Jared Berggren contested 3-point try. It clanks off the rim. Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford are both in perfect position for the rebound. They leap in the air, collide and the ball bounces away -- right into the hands of Ben Brust, who promptly drains a wide-open 15-footer to quiet the crowd.
The second: On Wisconsin's next possession, after two Watford free throws, the Hoosiers again play stifling defense. This time, the Badgers are completely scrambling. With the shot clock down to five, a shot-clock violation looks more likely than a basket. But Ryan Evans, flat top and all, a horrid shooter, with Oladipo absolutely draped all over him, buries a Kobe-esque 19-foot fadeaway jumper.
Two possessions, two unlucky breaks for Indiana.
"In the second half," Crean said, "they made some shots. Some of them reminded me of the Michael Jordan-Larry Bird McDonald's commercial."
Evans and Traevon Jackson led the Badgers (13-4, 4-0) with 13 and 11 points respectively. Wisconsin -- the last remaining unbeaten in league play -- has won seven in a row and beaten two Top 15 teams in four days. The victory continues the Badgers' dominance of Indiana: 11 straight overall and five in a row in Bloomington (first team since 1923 to do that).
"I really liked how hard our guys played, the adjustments our guys made on the court" said Wisconsin skipper Bo Ryan.
Jackson, who stepped into the starting role left by injured Josh Gasser, said, "It's huge, you know. We'll celebrate for 24 hours, and then we got to get ready for Iowa; just got to get ready for another one."
Cody Zeller paced Indiana (15-2, 3-1) with 23 points, 18 of which came in the first half, and 10 rebounds. Watford added 11 points and Oladipo scored 10. The Hoosiers had just seven assists in the game, and Indiana's lowest-scoring output of the season prior to this came in a 66-53 win over Georgia.
Wisconsin used a 9-0 second-half run to take control. Jackson sparked the surge with a three-point play, and Mike Bruesewitz capped it with a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock -- a familiar sight as the Badgers repeatedly ran the shot clock down under 10 seconds on their possessions before making a real attempt to score.
The game was eerily similar to the Butler game, not coincidentally the Hoosiers' other loss this season. Butler and Wisconsin used the same gameplan, and for the life of me, I can't figure out why every team doesn't do this.
The Badgers were 100 percent committed to getting back defensively in transition. There were no Zeller kick-ahead dunks and very few times did Wisconsin lose a shooter in transition. In addition to hustling back after every offensive possession, Wisconsin made it easier on themselves by limiting turnovers (eight) and being very judicious with its shot selection.
Secondly, Wisconsin took away Jordan Hulls (four points, zero 3-pointers), refusing to leave him at all cost. Even if it meant letting Zeller and Watford play one-on-one on the block, the Badgers just weren't going to help off Hulls or go under a ballscreen. When a team does this, Hulls -- who is usually a decent passer but, whew, not tonight -- becomes a non-factor on offense. Defensively, he's a liability as soon as the ball is tipped.
Doing those two things made it a half-court, grind-it-out game and went a long way towards eliminating Indiana's two biggest strengths -- transition offense and 3-point shooting. If a team takes away those two things (like Butler did, too), they give themselves a shot to beat Indiana and get the Hoosiers out of their comfort zone. If they take quick shots and let Indiana run, they're losing a lot more often than not.
If Indiana was in a comfort zone Tuesday night, I sure as heck didn't see it. The Hoosiers struggled to shoot the ball all night (20 of 54, including 3 for 12 from the 3-point line), and every time Indiana made a run, Wisconsin answered with a play -- even if it came with a little luck, at times.
"It's just what we normally do," Ryan said. "We try to take away giving up easy baskets. I think everybody in the country says that, and then you've got to do it. Our guys have bought in to that, especially tonight because Indiana is that good."
For Indiana, any home loss is a disappointing loss, especially in what's shaping up to be a wild, deep race for the Big Ten championship. But I'd caution against overreacting. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. The Badgers are a stout defensive club, well-coached and a very, very difficult team to play against.
There are only a couple red flags, as far as I'm concerned.
Indiana needs to improve its halfcourt offense. The Hoosiers excel in an up-and-down, free-flowing game, but have struggled this year in two games (this and Butler) when possessions were limited and needed to be cherished a little more than normal.
Zeller needs to develop a post game. He's fantastic running the floor and pretty good as a face-up player (see: first half), but he's extremely raw in the post. Often times, with his back to the basket, Zeller easily gets knocked off balance and is forced to kick the ball out or toss up a weak shot. He rarely gets it on the block and makes a strong power move or lofts up a baby hook. He's simply not, at this point in his career, a post player who you dump it to down low and get out of the way.
Hey, bench players, where are you? For a team that was hyped as being the deepest squad in the country, the reserves have been on vacation the last two games. Over the previous 80 minutes, Indiana's bench has accounted for one -- one! -- field goal (Jeremy Hollowell layup tonight). Will Sheehey and Remy Abell need to get back to where they were earlier this year, being key contributors. The last two games have been really odd. The rotations have been in flux all year, with Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Hollowell missing time due to suspensions and Derek Elston's knee woes. It's something that should get ironed out over time.
The Hoosiers will look to rebound when they travel to Northwestern Sunday for a 1 p.m. road game. The Wildcats are 10-7 and 1-3 in the Big Ten.