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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Seasoned Badgers Solve The Buckeyes

Earlier in the year, I wouldn't have been excited about a match-up with a team playing strictly zone defense. With the recent emergence of Jason Bohannon, I was cautiously optimistic about today's game and Wisconsin proved me right with an important 58-53 win over Ohio State.

Despite the outstanding play of two Badger guards this afternoon, the play of the game was made by a big man. Brian Butch's block of Matt Terwilliger with two minutes left prolonged a game-ending Buckeye drought and kept the home crowd at bay. This enabled Wisconsin to pull out the victory even though it squandered chance after chance to put Ohio State away in the final minutes.

CBS named Bohannon the Player of the Game after shooting 4-of-6 from 3-point land en route to 16 points and five rebounds. [box score] With the win, UW takes a temporary half-game lead atop of the Big Ten standings with three games remaining.

Bohannon was not alone, however. Michael Flowers continues to be the guiding force for this team. I have not written about this yet, but I've been making the point for a few weeks now: Flowers is the most important piece on this team. As opposed to a player like Greg Stiemsma, the improvement made by Flowers has been very evident over his career, even more so this season. You could make an argument for Flowers as team MVP on the basis of his tireless defense alone, but his evolution into a 3-point threat seals the deal in my eyes.

For instance, Flowers played a team-high 35 minutes and dished out a game-high six assists. With 13 more assists, Mike will move into the top ten in school history for a career. His two steals today moved him into sixth place all-time with 152 career thefts.

You cannot say enough about the confidence the team has been building from the outside. Just as he did against Indiana, J-Bo followed up an airballed 3-pointer with a swish a minute later. No more hesitation. Let's just hope the resurgence is not coming at the expense of other facets of the offense.

Wisconsin's big men generally had trouble finishing on the blocks and were out-sized with Butch on the bench for much of the game with early foul trouble. The Badgers were out-rebounded again, "forced" into 12 first-half turnovers and only shot 10 free throws. In their defense though, they really tightened down the rebounding and ball handling (2 TOs) after halftime.

I can't forget to mention that Tim Jarmusz is officially in the rotation with another 12-13 minutes today. Bo is clearly more comfortable with Jarmusz handling pressure than Jon Leuer and seemed to want the IQ and passing ability of the former against Ohio State's zone. Jarmusz also added a sweet turnaround jumper from eight feet at a fairly critical juncture. That's more great news for Badger fans.

: : :

Rob Wilson and Garfield Heights battle Cleveland Heights on Wednesday night for the right to advance to the district finals.

Back in Wisconsin, chalk is holding court throughout D1. Madison LaFollette welcomed back sublime shooter Cashton Craig and the Lancers are surprising some as they tear through the competition right now. LaFollette plays Waunakee -- which shut down Marquis Mason and the pesky 11-seed Madison East -- when most of the tournament resumes Friday. On Thursday, however, top-ranked Milwaukee Washington collides with Milwaukee King early in an epic Sectional clash.

Sixth-seeded Pius XI was eliminated the same week former King transfer Korie Lucious was snubbed from the McDonald's All-American Game to be held in Milwaukee next month. Lucious pulled out a win for the Popes just before the tourney started with two tough last-second 3-pointers [video]. The 5'10" shooting star once tabbed by Sports Illustrated For Kids as the best 8th-grader in the country will play for Tom Izzo in the fall. Good luck to him.

Eau Claire North (Evan Anderson) is still alive in D1, but Flavien Davis and Wisconsin Lutheran got bounced unexpectedly by Brown Deer in D2. Locals Madison Edgewood and Monroe also cruised into the D2 sectionals, while the division's top team Waupaun faces sixth-ranked Plymouth for a third time this season. Waupaun destroyed Jared Berggren's Princeton (MN) team a month ago, but dropped two close games to Plymouth to finish two back of the Panthers in the Eastern Wisconsin Conference.

Five of the 16 remaining teams in D3 are private, parochial schools. Keep an eye on that number, as the percentage will likely rise as the field dwindles. Whitefish Bay Dominican escaped with an 81-79 overtime win against Milwaukee Northwest to keep a potential sectional final game with Racine St. Catherine's a distinct possibility.

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