There were definitely times when it seemed as though the Wisconsin basketball season was going to come to an end tonight against the Oregon Ducks. What happened instead was hard fought, never say die attitude that resulted in a gritty 61-58 win.
Wisconsin basketball’s rotating leader
Every game of this NIT run has featured a different Badger as the scoring leader. Tonight was no exception, as Max Klesmit led all scorers with 18 points on 5-11 from the field, 2-5 from 3-point land, and 6-7 from the foul line.
However, the points don’t begin to explain the impact that Max had on the game cannot be measured simply in points alone. There were quite a few times that it seemed Oregon was going to put some serious distance between themselves and the Badgers. But then Klesmit would hit a timely shot and reverse the momentum.
Chucky was the only other Badger in double-digits with 12 points. Crowl and Essegian were both right at the door with nine points, and Crowl was also the leading rebounder on the evening with 10 boards.
Jordan Davis played a huge role this evening, coming off the bench with six points and eight rebounds. Multiple times during the course of the game, Davis gave the Badgers a jolt of energy and hustle when it looked like they might fade away.
Oregon was tough, even short-handed
Oregon’s toughness of defense and sheer athleticism were very impressive. While they definitely missed their three starters and a fourth reserve player, they fought valiantly through the whole contest.
In the first two Wisconsin basketball games, even when the score was close, I never had a worry about the Badgers pulling it out. I would be lying if I said that was the case this evening.
The stats from ESPN.com say that the Ducks only had eight blocked shots, but it sure felt closer to 20.
Vegas, baby, Vegas (finally!)
While I jumped the gun a bit after the last game and mistakenly thought tonight’s contest would be in the City of Sin, many of my intelligent readers pointed out my error. Maybe I’m clairvoyant ??
Either way, the Wisconsin basketball team, through a season that has certainly had more than its fair share of ups and downs, is headed for the Final Four of the NIT tournament, which will sadly be held in Las Vegas this year instead of the more traditional Madison Square Garden in New York City.
The Badgers will take on the University of North Texas from Denton, Texas. They played earlier in the evening and defeated Oklahoma State in overtime, 65-59. The game is set for next Tuesday, March 28th. As my custom, I will provide my analysis of the Mean Green (what kind of mascot is that?) and give you my gambling take as well.
Lastly, one final point. I get that quite a few fans are disappointed that Wisconsin didn’t perform better during the season to make the dance. Trust me, I would much rather be writing about a team that made the Big Dance than one that didn’t.
But playing in the NIT absolutely means something. First, look at how fired up these kids are during the game. For the Oregon players this evening, playing in the NIT gave them a shot at proving what they can do in a game environment. The teams that have reached the finals of the NIT in each of the previous two seasons have gone on to play in the NCAA tournament the following year.