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Sunday, March 22, 2009

From Now On, Everything Is Icing

More than 24 hours have passed since Wisconsin's most gratifying win of the season. Beating 5-seed Florida State was not an improbable victory, but at halftime it sure seemed like it. And considering the team's hot and cold resolve in late-game situations, I don't think anyone really expected a repeat of the Virginia Tech finish.

But that's what Trevon Hughes gave us. He is an ACC killer. Pop showed the ultimate level of toughness by hanging in over the course of 45 minutes in a game where he made decisions (4 TOs, two critical missed FTs) even he termed "bonehead plays."

"He was really strong with the ball on that particular play," said Marcus Landry. I agree.

In the locker room after the game, footage shows a mix of youthful excitement and flat out relief from some of the players.

For me, Wisconsin missing the tournament would have been confirmation of a disappointing season. By winning one in Boise already, the season is officially a success in my eyes. A fine line isn't it? Not only did the team give Bo Ryan his first coaching victory over a better seed, but the Badgers may have gotten a bit of their end of the game mojo back.

Toney Douglas is a heck of a player. Wow. But Florida State turned out to be just a two-trick pony.

After leading the team with an impassioned halftime talk, Joe Krabbenhoft got a steal and a big 3-pointer to start an incredible 13-0 run. Following Krabby's lead, Wisconsin came out to start the second half as a team. Keaton Nankivil rose from anonymity again. His eight straight points capped the run to give the Badgers a 32-31 lead with 14:40 remaining. At that point, it was a brand new ballgame and a breath of fresh air. [box score]

Nankivil finished with 14 points off the bench and thankfully Bo stuck with him despite some foul trouble. Besides the ankle injury, defensive consistency and overall intensity is what has kept the sophomore off the floor even as fans have been clamoring for him to get more playing time.

"He was tough. Knocked down some shots. Got some confidence going," Ryan said of Nankivil after the game. "I think he was even talking to himself when he went down the court a couple times. Did you see the lips moving? He wasn't trash talking, that's Keaton getting himself going. We knew we had him ready then."

Even so, Wisconsin needed clutch outside shooting from Jason Bohannon to make up the seven-point deficit it faced with five minutes to play in regulation. Again, an impressive display of mental toughness and persistence by the team. Then, when J-Bo hit the first shot of overtime form behind the arc, we started to believe.

Thanks to UW and Michigan, the Big Ten more than held it's own in round one despite Illinois and Ohio State losing. The conference posted a 4-3 record despite having four teams seeded 8th, 10th, 10th and 12th. Since then, Purdue won a second-round game as the Big Ten creeps closer to topping postseason expectations. A sweep by Michigan State and Wisconsin today would guarantee it.

As I expressed earlier, any more wins at this point are gravy. Xavier is a tough, well-coached major conference program stuck in the "mid-major" Atlantic 10 conference. The Musketeers will not be as long along the frontline as the Seminoles were however, which is why I have a feeling Old Man Landry will be a key factor in any success the Badgers have. He needs to rediscover that baseline spin move that served him well through his first three seasons at Wisconsin.

Speaking of Landry's senior season, he needs four more blocked shots to tie Kurt Portmann for fourth place all-time in Badger history. He needs three more offensive rebounds to pass Patrick Tompkins on the career offensive rebounding list.

As we update the seniors' progress on Record Watch, congratulations are in order for Hughes also, who sneaked onto Wisconsin's top ten in career steals in the past few games, passing Wes Matthews. Pop should be able to climb several more places next season.

Player - Career Rebounds (Season Total)
5. Kim Hughes - 806
6. Alando Tucker - 769
7. Joe Krabbenhoft - 753 (217)

Player - Career Off Rebs (Season Total)
2. Mike Wilkinson - 311
3. Andy Kowske - 240
4. Joe Krabbenhoft - 231 (60)
5. Sean Daugherty - 227
6. Brian Butch - 222
7. Michael Finley: 205
8. Patrick Tompkins: 181
9. Marcus Landry: 179 (51)

Player - Career Blocks (Season Total)
3. Mike Wilkinson - 117
4. Kurt Portmann - 102
5. Marcus Landry - 98 (34)

- Madison Memorial makes good on Jeronne Maymon's vow to win a state title.
- Talk about bad timing. Officials wait until the state tournament to let a Chicago high school powerhouse know about their "illegal" uniforms, which may have cost them a championship.

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