CHICAGO - If it was possible to compress Wisconsin's entire season into 40 minutes, the Badgers managed to do it Friday afternoon in Chicago.
Wisconsin showcased just how cold the team's shooting can go in the first half of their Big Ten Tournament game against No. 6 Michigan. They shot just 17.2 percent from the floor, including just 2-of-13 on 3-pointers, and limped into halftime trailing the Wolverines 20-17. But the Badgers scored 51 points after halftime and knocked Michigan out of the Big Ten Tournament with a 68-59 win.
The Badgers started to heat up at the end of the first half, when they finished the half on a 7-2 run capped by a 3-pointer from Traevon Jackson with four seconds left. But the Badgers shot the lights out after Jared Berggren missed his first three shots of the half. They shot 68 percent from the floor from that point forward, including 6-of-9 3-pointers. The Badgers said they didn't lose any confidence after their poor first half performance, and said they knew shots would go down if they kept getting good looks.
"Tre did a good job of figuring out what we needed to do in the second half and he called some plays to get us established down low," junior guard Ben Brust said. "We got some early buckets down low and it opened up the outside. We knew the ball was going to go down. We talked about it. We'd made shots before."
The Badgers also survived a late comeback from the Wolverines, who cut Wisconsin's lead to just two points after they forced Jackson and Berggren to sit on the bench with four fouls each. But Frank Kaminsky made two crucial jumpers to give the Badgers more breathing room, and eventually iced the game by shooting 5-of-6 from the free throw line in the game's final minutes.
It was Wisconsin's second win of the season over the Wolverines, who shot just 40.4 percent from the floor in the game. The Badgers also allowed the Wolverines to make just three 3-pointers in the game, and generally forced them out of their comfort zone while they got their offense back on track in the second half.
"It's the old cliché: defense wins championships," senior forward Ryan Evans said after the game.
And while Michigan sophomore point guard Trey Burke led all scorers with 19 points, the Badgers made him take 22 shots to get it. Jackson said after the game that they were trying to make the road as hard as possible for Burke, who is legitimate national player of the year candidate and also scored 19 points against the Badgers in their previous meeting this season.
"We were trying to just contest everything, because he's that good of a player to where you really can't stop him. He can make tough shots," Jackson said. "You just hope that he misses and make him take tough shots every single time."
The Badgers will play No. 3 Indiana tomorrow afternoon in the United Center, after the Hoosiers defeated Illinois 80-64 earlier in the day. It'll be the second meeting of the season for the two teams after the Badgers defeated them 64-59 in Bloomington.
The Badgers will need another excellent defensive performance if they want to defeat the Hoosiers for the second time this season, and it certainly wouldn't hurt to play more like they did in the second half than they did in the first. But when they're on their game they feel like they can beat anyone in the country.
"I just think that, collectively, when we play as a team we can beat anybody," Jackson said after the game. "You say [Michigan has] "five-stars," yeah, these guys are NBA guys, but we believe in ourselves as well. I think we've got a really talented group of guys and when we come together we can beat anybody."