After Wednesday's battle between Badgers and Wolverines, Bo Ryan struggled to find any other words to describe how Wisconsin emerged victorious, other than that his guys continued scratching and crawling.
The first half was incredibly hard to watch. Despite plenty of good looks, "Wisconsin couldn't buy a bucket" was the simple explanation. Six scoreless minutes to start the game ... second field goal nearly 10 minutes in ... 32% shooting from the floor in the first half. As we've seen lately, the team was still settling for lots of 3-pointers (1-10 in the half, 4-24 overall). The Badgers seemed to get more impatient with every missed shot and rushed the offense at times.
But UW got its cool back late in the first half and was fortunate to be down only 21-18 thanks to Michigan's own ineptitude (imagine how Tom Izzo would have described it). When Wisconsin held Michigan scoresless in the final five minutes of the half and pulled to within one possession on the bank shot by Trevon Hughes, I left the house feeling pretty good about the ultimate outcome.
Yet UW continued to trail until the final minutes. Michigan's senior big man DeShawn Sims continued to exploit Wisconsin's void inside to lead the Wolverines. While Tim Jarmusz effectively shut down and disengaged Manny Harris, the rest of Michigan's team was coming up empty, however, especially the bench (1 point). Sims finished with 23 pts and 13 rebs. [box score]
This year's Badgers know how to scratch and claw for these wins though. They did it by valuing possessions, so keeping the turnovers to a minimum and fighting for offensive boards were huge in the second half. As Michigan's shot selection fell apart, Wisconsin became more determined than ever to get easier looks and get to the foul line.
"You can’t always shoot well," said junior Keaton Nankivil. "We still do a lot of stuff well that puts us in position to win and that’s the way Coach (Ryan) coaches us."
Despite winning the four factors, it still really came down to making shots. Hughes' 16 second-half points and a surprise contribution from Rob Wilson took care of that.
Wilson scored 13 of UW's 19 bench points. Hughes put it best in his post-game interview on the Big Ten Network: "It's about time he stepped up."
I wouldn't quite call it a coming-out party, but Wilson's performance was vital. Just as important as the stats (4-of-6 shooting in 18 mins, no turnovers) was the aggressive attitude, something that seems to elude many members of this UW team when in a hole. Wilson scored in every way on the court, which Hughes classically described as Rob "bringing his scout team game."
The win preserved Bo's flawless record against Michigan coach John Beilein and kept the next blemish on Bo's Kohl Center record (131-10) at bay. As Beilein admitted, Wisconsin is so good at home because, well, the Badgers under Bo have always been a really good team. That speaks to Bo's special ability to lead a steady program.
Wisconsin will try to get out of the gate much stronger on Sunday when UW hosts Penn State.