After two excruciatingly-close losses, Wisconsin basketball finally, FINALLY won an ugly game, defeating Minnesota 71-67 to close out the regular season.
Wisconsin basketball highlights
With the Badgers struggling to score from the outside (3-12 from long range), Wisconsin turned to its big men for scoring.
Boy, did they respond.
Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl each scored 21 points. Crowl did it on 9-13 shooting from the field and 3-4 from the foul line. Time and time again he was able to exert his will against the hapless Minnesota defenders. At one point he even turned his ankle and the Gophers still couldn’t stop the weapons in his offensive arsenal.
Wahl went 8-11 from the field and a perfect 5-5 from the foul line in what was easily the best game since his ankle injury in early January. His horizontal movement looked very fluid and he seemed to have completely regained all of his vertical explosiveness.
All season long, I have been harping on Wisconsin basketball’s inability to rebound or shoot free throws.
Ladies and gents, today they seemed to have solved both issues.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair, because their foul shooting has gotten significantly better over the last month. In the last five games, they shot less than 70% only once, their win against Iowa (although they did make 10 of 18 in that game).
Tonight, they shot a collective 82.4% (14-17) from the charity stripe.
More surprising, however, was the Badgers winning the battle of the boards. Wisconsin outrebounded Minnesota 31-25, with Crowl and Wahl pacing the UW with seven boards a piece. Connor Essegian chipped in six from his guard position, to go along with the 11 points he scored.
Areas of concern for Wisconsin basketball
All season long, the Badgers have been one of the more proficient teams, not only in the Big Ten but also the country, in 3-point shooting.
In the last 10 games, however, they have only managed to shoot 40% or better in two of those contests. One of those games was the overtime win against Penn State and the other was their most recent loss against Purdue.
Those shooting woes continued this evening, as Wisconsin only hit 3-12 (25%) from downtown.
However, there was a positive out of this poor shooting performance.
Going into the locker room at halftime, Minnesota was leading 36-29. Wisconsin had only hit 2-10 from 3-point land.
Instead of continuously trying to force something that clearly wasn’t working, Coach Gard changed the game plan and had UW focus their offensive efforts in the interior, with the guards driving instead of sniping.
Where does Wisconsin basketball go from here?
Going into this evening’s game, ESPN’s resident “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi had the Badgers in “the last four in” category, along with fellow Big Ten brethren, Penn State. The Nittany Lions won a wild affair against #21 Maryland, 65-64.
Wisconsin did its part in that equation with its victory over the Golden Gophers. Unfortunately, this win was not enough to get them a first-round bye, so the Badgers play on Wednesday.
This may not be as bad of a scenario as might first be expected. Given the fact that they were squarely “on the bubble”, what Wisconsin needs more than anything is victories.
Cue up the Ohio State Buckeyes. At one point in the season, they were ranked in the top 25 and had a record of 10-3.
They finished with a record of 13-18. In case you didn’t do that math right away, they closed out the season 3-15.
However, they did win two out of their last three contests, defeating Illinois and #21 Maryland at home and playing Michigan State on the road very tough.
So, knowing Wisconsin’s fondness of making every game a close, heart-stopping affair, I’m sure Wednesday’s contest will be hard-fought and close.
But, if the Badgers win there, then their record goes to 18-13. Next up for them would be Iowa, who Wisconsin has defeated twice already this season.
However, most sports pundits will tell you one of the most difficult things to do in team sports is defeat a team three times in one season.
Wisconsin basketball’s future is, literally, in its own hands.
How they respond is anyone’s guess. But I know it’ll be one helluva ride.