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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Fighting For Bragging Rights

The home court winning streak is over. And the Badgers just gave it away.

Wisconsin gave the intrastate title belt away by missing free throws. The Badgers shot only 60% from the line, but the statistic cannot do justice to how critical each of those 10 misses were in the game [box score]. Not only could the Badgers have kept the game tight, but they could have extended their lead on repeated occasions while the outcome was still in doubt. Being in the bonus for the last 12 minutes of clock, it was inexcusable that Wisconsin did not make Marquette pay dearly from the charity stripe.

The Badgers went 3-of-8 from the free throw line over a four-minute span in the middle of the second half, including missed front ends of bonus opportunities by Hughes and Leuer. The botched 1-and-1 by Hughes came on the heels of the double technicals he and Dominic James earned for their main event stare down with UW leading, 50-46. To be fair, the extracurricular activity hardly deserved technicals. Nevertheless, Hughes had a chance to extended a 9-3 Wisconsin run that had his team seemingly in control. Yet, the missed freebies completely stifled that momentum and gave a talented opponent hope and heart.

Wisconsin gave the game away by giving the ball away. Marquette brought tenacious pressure defense, as expected. However, the 18 turnovers by UW included many unforced turnovers in the second half. Greg Stiemsma in particular had a terrible game, throwing away three consecutive passes with dumb decisions. Those 18 turnovers matched the season-high set at Duke, another team with good guards and pressure D. The blueprint has been laid out for how to defeat these Badgers.

I think this was clearly Wisconsin 's game to lose, being on their home court. Even down three points with a minute to go, I don't think anyone was truly fearful of losing. That is, until Marcus Landry's awful foul 70 feet away from the ball before an inbounds pass. Trade those two free throws in for one stop and you could be looking at a tie game rather than a Golden Eagle free throw parade. But, not everything was simply given away ...

Marquette took this game with excellent passing. Marquette is eons ahead of Wisconsin in terms of seeing the court and delivering the basketball near the hoop. I'm not a big fan of James' wild approaches to the basket, but he was superb at drawing defenders in this game and had a few dazzling dishes. He really outplayed Hughes.

I've got to give credit to the Marquette coaching staff. The passing lanes and dump-downs on the baseline were exploited to no end. Meanwhile, this Wisconsin club is clearly a step below past incarnations defensively. Say what you want about Tucker, Taylor and Chappell individually, but they appear to have been, at the very least, much better at team defense than their successors.

Marquette took this game by rebounding harder. The Golden Eagles out-hustled the Badgers for loose balls several times and their hunger on the boards showed that they valued the ball tonight much more than the players in Red and White did. It's a rare sight to see a three-guard offense get as many offensive rebounds as Marquette did, resulting in a 37-29 advantage cleaning the glass.

Overall, this was a scrappy, entertaining, hotly-contested rivalry games. The visitors were the higher ranked team in this one and they showed why. Wisconsin's lack of guard depth was exposed again with Flowers and Hughes in foul trouble. Brian Butch disappeared after a truly fantastic first half in which he shot 6-10 from the floor for 16 points. He finished with 17. Flashes of brilliance in the post by Landry continue to convince me that the coaching staff is wrong in trying to move him to the wing. Landry also doubled as the team's best passer tonight.

But it all comes down to Hughes. He was not the passer, shooter, defender or playmaker this team needs him to be. The missed free throws and untimely technical show how far Pop has to go to become "clutch."

1 comment:

  1. I can feel your frustration and disappointment in your post. I'm almost glad I couldn't see the game. Stuff like missed free throws just kills me. Thanks for the great write-up though!


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