It's been a few days since the Badgers shocked the 9th-ranked Texas Longhorns and I'm still giddy. Just the type of win Wisconsin needed to validate the non-conference portion of the schedule. Not only did the Badgers get their first road win against a top ten opponent in 27 years, but the team inspired a great new one-liner from Jay Bilas: "Bo Ryan is a thief!"
It was a thrilling game that was tight the entire 40 minutes. If I had to categorize the upset, I'd apply two labels. First, the Most Pleasantly Surprising Finish Ever. Losing arguably the team's most talented player the night before a game in which UW squared off against the quickest point guard in the nation, no one expected the Badgers to hang with the Longhorns, let alone win on the road. Secondly, I would call the performance Wisconsin's Best Executed Game Plan of the Year. Bo out-coached Rick Barnes and effectively set the tempo in Wisconsin's favor. What a breath of fresh air to see Wisconsin pound the ball inside to its best scorers (Butch and Landry) with smart passes (14 assists) and few turnovers (10 total). [box score]
While the ending was historic, none of it happens without Brian Butch. The Polar Bear dominated the post, using shot fakes and a deft touch around the rim. He tallied 21 points, 11 boards and three assists to lead UW in each category. Even so, when Butch missed the front end of a bonus opportunity -- part of another poor showing at the free throw stripe -- I thought the Badgers were sunk. But that's where the hometown boy come in ...
The last 30 seconds contained three of the most important plays of Michael Flowers' career. Saying he stepped up is more than a huge understatement. It started with his hustle for an offensive rebound in the corner after an absolutely pathetic possession in which J-Bo fired up an off-balance prayer with the shot clock winding down. Bo's decision to go for a quick two-pointer out of the timeout was perfect; the execution by Marcus Landry was priceless.
A missed free throw by A.J. Abrams (Texas was equally awful at hitting freebies) was all Wisconsin needed to complete the coup. And there are hardly any words for that ... as Bo proved by choking up in the post-game interview.
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Monday, December 31, 2007