When I made the decision to start covering Wisconsin basketball and football, I did so because the Wisconsin teams that I knew were tough, had grit and moxie. After watching today’s 75-71 win over Liberty University, I know I made the right choice.
McGhee vs Chucky
Coming into the game, everybody knew that Liberty’s Darius McGhee was an impressive player. I’ll admit I underestimated his ability to get his shot off.
Wisconsin basketball fans, however, knew that we had a similar, although not oft as used, weapon in Chucky Hepburn. For those in attendance and folks watching on TV, you were treated to a fantastic duel between two guards having a great game.
I had said before the game that Wisconsin’s length should disrupt Liberty’s long-distance accuracy. As the Flames went a collective 8-27 (29.6%) beyond the arc, I would say that the Badgers did just that. McGhee, the nation’s leader in 3-point shot attempts and second in 3-point shots made, was only 4-15 (26.7%) from downtown. Mission accomplished.
But McGhee showed why he’s not only an All-American but Liberty’s all-time leading scorer with his ability to create baskets. He would slash and drive, put English on the ball that seemed to defy physics.
Chucky did almost the exact same thing, however. He was ice-cold from three-point land (0-6) but still amassed a career-high 27 points on 9-20 from the field and 9-11 from the charity stripe. It seemed that every time Liberty was poised to make a run and put some distance between themselves and Wisconsin, Chucky stopped it with a forceful drive.
Wisconsin basketball’s dominating interior
When I first started watching Steven Crowl this season, I thought he had a good bit of talent but maybe a little passive in his game. Offensively, it was obvious he was improving but he still was not a force inside, even as a seven-footer.
The “Big Steve” that has been playing the last two games should be a monster next year in the NCAA paint. He isn’t shying away from contact, in fact, almost seeks it. He seems to be starting to exert his will against the opposition.
His offensive production continues to be, in a word, efficient. He went 7-9 from the field for a total of 14 points. It would have been more had he not lost his temper a bit.
I have no qualms about the elbow to the face where he picked up the flagrant one. I don’t think he intentionally tried to hit him, but he obviously did. I believe, from watching the replay a few times on my DVR, that Robinson tried to pull Crowl down with him.
My only regret was that Crowl lost his composure a bit when he said something inflammatory and picked up the technical with it. Having played sports through high school, in college, and in the Navy, I know in the heat of the moment tempers flare.
But by getting the technical there, he picked up two fouls at once, giving him three with 49 seconds left in the first half. He sat long stretches of the last half of the game because of his physical style of play is going to foul on occasion.
As good as it probably felt to call Robinson whatever he did, Crowl’s value to the team is too great to have him sitting long stretches on the bench.
Luckily for Wisconsin basketball, they’re blessed with another savvy, veteran forward in Tyler Wahl. As soon as Crowl went out, Wahl became Chucky’s complimentary player down low. Using his size advantage to great huge height advantages, Wahl was the Badgers’ second-leading scorer with 16 points on 5-6 from the field and 6-7 from the foul line.
Wisconsin basketball showed grit and resiliency
I’ll be the first to admit that I underestimated Liberty too much. I knew that McGhee was good, but Liberty’s Kyle Rode impressed as well. His range was much longer than I had anticipated and at 6’9″, there wasn’t much worry that he’d have his shots blocked.
The Wisconsin nay-sayers will complain that the Badgers struggled against a mid-major school and only won by four.
Yes, it was a close game and Wisconsin had to fight to win it. However, it shouldn’t have been as close as it was. To say that the Badgers were “off” from 3-point range would be an understatement of epic proportion. They were an abysmal 1-15 (6.7%) from long range. As bizarre as it sounds though, that one three might have won them the game.
The score was 67-65 Liberty with 2:09 remaining. Klesmit had a height advantage and calmly launched his 3-point bomb and the Badgers took the lead 68-67. Had he missed it, Liberty probably would have gotten the rebound and would have had a chance to go up by two possessions in under two minutes.
When your opponent has a player of McGhee’s caliber, capable of scoring points in big bunches quickly, you can never fully relax until the game is over.
I don’t know if Wisconsin could have won a game like this in February. Of course, almost every game was hard-fought and close, but so many times the Badgers came up with the short end of the stick. But today, they would not be denied.
I will say, with the utmost confidence, that had Wisconsin played like this during the regular season, they would have been playing in that other March tournament currently going on.
Notes that were taken during the game
This was some of the worst announcing that I’ve heard all year. They once referred to Liberty’s McGhee as being 6’2″. He’s 5’9″ on stilts. They said that the 3-point shot wasn’t an important facet of Wisconsin’s offense, but we were 3rd in the Big Ten in 3-pointers attempted and made. Finally, they said that Wisconsin is finally able to play with the pressure of must-win games. Uh, a single-elimination tournament is the very definition of must-win games.
Liberty’s guards looked like the little boy who wants to play with the big kids but is just a pesky nuisance. It looked as if everyone on Liberty’s roster was an acting major, with all of the flopping going on.
The Dancing Queen would have been a perfect fit for this team.
For two teams that had never faced each other, it was very chippy and aggressive.
Anybody that says these games don’t matter clearly doesn’t know what intensity in players is. Try telling these kids that nobody cares about the NIT, because they sure as hell seem to.
I was in error in stating they would be playing in Las Vegas for their next game. The winner of the Oregon-UCF game will determine the next location. If Oregon wins, Wisconsin will travel to Eugene. If UCF wins, the Badgers will play host at the Kohl Center.
I’d like to personally thank everyone who helped me. When I realize a mistake was made, I own it and appreciate the help.