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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ding-Dong, The Streak Is Dead

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow on Monday, predicting six more weeks of winter, but I am calling shenanigans. The "Deep Freeze of 2009" began to thaw tonight as Wisconsin closed out a big home win against Illinois to snap a ridiculous six-game losing skid.

I had a good feeling this week about the Badgers catching a break against the Illini due my reservations about Illinois' guard play. Those hopes were realized in a game where a Badger opponent was finally the one suffering from ice cold shooting. Illinois will have no complaints about the number of open shots it took. With center Mike Tisdale in foul trouble, Illinois had to rely on more outside shooting, which never materialized after a couple of early Demetri McCamey buckets. Illinois sank only 4-of-21 on threes. [box score]

You can attribute some of Illinois' 33% shooting to improved Wisconsin defense. For the most part, Wisconsin did a good job on the perimeter staying in front of penetration. McCamey was able to drive past Joe Krabbenhoft on a number of occasions, but the other Badgers picked up the slack to hold the Illinois sophomore to 12 points -- 13 fewer than he had in the previous meeting.

Wisconsin was impressive in the paint on both ends. With Keaton Nankivil sitting with a sore ankle, Jon Leuer got his first start. He and Marcus Landry combined to score 31 points and grab 12 rebounds. Jason Bohannon's hot start opened up the offense (funny how that works, huh?) so the post men could be aggressive going to the basket. This resulted in more free throw attempts for Wisconsin. More importantly, the Badgers made those bunnies that they worked so hard to get. Easy baskets and defense win games.

Though Wisconsin got pounded on the offensive boards, guys like Leuer, Landry, Krabby and Kevin Gullikson boxed out well so that those rebounds that Illinois did get were not automatically converted into gimmes around the rim.

If you compare the numbers from the Northwestern loss and this win, you realize that college basketball is just an odd thing. And it confirms that defense cannot really be measured, because Wisconsin did not all of sudden solve all of their defensive problems between these two games.

The Badgers shot better from the field and from the free throw line against the Wildcats than they did against the Illini. Wisconsin also outrebounded Northwestern, yet still lost. Really the only two areas where Wisconsin improved versus Illinois were turnovers and fouls.

The biggest bench contributions were Gullikson's post entries and Jordan Taylor's defense. Taylor also hit an important 3-pointer with about 12 minutes left to regain the momentum lost on J-Bo's missed dunk. If you count Tim Jarmusz, Bo Ryan went eight men deep. Rob Wilson saw three minutes and the team finally got to empty the bench again. A very good feeling ...

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