Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan had every reason to get into a defensive stance and do the team’s defensive slide drill after the No. 16 Badgers snuck out of Columbus with a 63-60 win over No. 8 Ohio State.
The Badgers played marvelous defense on sophomore big man Jared Sullinger who had 8 points and 6 rebounds in 33 minutes. In the Buckeyes’ 58-52 win at the Kohl Center on Feb. 4, Sullinger ate up Jared Berggren to the tune of 24 points and 10 boards.
This time Berggren heeded Ryan’s advice and prevented the number of low-post touches that Sullinger got. But unfortunately that wasn’t enough to ensure the win as Deshaun Thomas gave Wisconsin fits with his length and athleticism. Thomas missed only six shots, four from beyond the arc, and finished with 23 points and 7 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Sullinger did a nice job of spotting double coverage, which at times came late, and then quickly dished to the open man, which was usually Thomas or William Buford.
Berggren nailed the three from the left wing with 31 seconds left when he drifted away from Jordan Taylor after setting a screen to give the point guard space from defensive specialist Aaron Craft. And just like most of the game, Sullinger refused to follow Berggren out there even though Berggren was 3-for-7 from three and finished with 18 points.
It was that three that broke the Buckeyes’ backs but Rob Wilson will determine how long this team plays into March. Thanks to injuries and inconsistent play, Wilson has scored a career high of only 13 points and has never attempted more than three three-pointers in a game. On Sunday, the Cleveland native who had plenty of friends and family in attendance, shot six and made three for nine points. Wilson has scored 20 points in his last two games, which is the most of any two-game stretch in his career.
With the increased time for Wilson that also means that Mike Bruesewitz and Ben Brust have been finding the pine more regularly. Bruesewitz, who hasn’t been efficient on offense and hasn’t played with the same fire on defense as last year, played 17 minutes scored no points and committed four fouls. Brust played 10 minutes, didn’t score as well and committed two fouls.
Bruesewitz was a sparkplug for last year’s Sweet Sixteen run. And it looks like Wilson is filling that role with a key three to break a 6-0 run in the first half, another triple that ended a 6-2 run early in the second half and he also found Berggren who ended a potential game-ending 9-0 run late in the game with a three that kissed every part of the rim.
The chances of the Badgers claiming the Big Ten regular season title were thin before the loss at Iowa. But, claiming a No. 4 seed in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament in Indy is equally important because the top four seeds get byes. But the way this season has gone, playing at home to Minnesota and Illinois isn’t going to be easy.
The only bad thing that came out of the school’s first road win over a Big Ten team in the AP Top 10 since 1980 was that Michigan State clinched at least a share of the title.