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February 28, 2012

UW clinches top-4 in Big Ten

MADISON -- It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was downright hard to watch at times. But Wisconsin got the win it needed to clinch a top-four finish in the Big Ten.

And that's all that really matters for Bo Ryan and the Badgers. They'll take the 52-45 victory and move on to Sunday's regular season finale against the Illini.

"The first half, it was ugly," Ryan Evans said. "Coach gave us a good speech at halftime and we wanted to come back and bounce back. And I'm just glad we got the opportunity to go out there and do it again."

So what exactly was that speech Ryan delivered in the locker room? Said Evans: "Just basically, 'Don't turn the ball over.' And that's saying it in a nice way."

It doesn't matter that Wisconsin shot 30.8 percent from the field or 27.3 percent beyond the arc. And it certainly is not important that those numbers were at 19 and 20 percent through the first half.

For once, an ugly shooting night did not end in a surprising home loss for the Badgers. Instead, it turned into a hard fought win after a gritty Big Ten battle.

Fatigue may have been a factor for the Badgers, who were playing their third game in six days. But they did not look to use that as an excuse following the game.

"I don't think it was a big thing," Jordan Taylor said. "They played Sunday and I think Thursday or something like that, too. So, at this point in the season, you've just got to come out ready to play."

Wisconsin started exceptionally slow offensively Tuesday night, scoring just 16 first-half points, six of which came from the free throw line. After trailing 23-16 at the break, the Badgers outscored the Gophers by 14 points in the second half.

The momentum seemed to turn following a first-half technical foul called on Ryan, who got upset with the officials when a Gophers player grabbed the ball following a pair of made free throws by Ralph Sampson III.

"It was our ball out of bounds, we get the ball, we run our press break," Ryan explained. "How can you run your press break if the other team is standing out of bounds with the basketball? So that was my only question.

"'Isn't that a technical?' That was my question. … Their guys were not ready to press at that time. So, my feeling was it altered the flow of the game. So, I had an opinion. And evidently, I was wrong."

After Minnesota got two points off the technical free throws, Wisconsin went on a 12-2 run stretching into the first four minutes of the second half to tie the game at 25 apiece.

From the 3:08 mark in the first half (when the technical was called) through the end of the game, the Badgers scored 39 points to just 22 for the Gophers. Over a 16-minute stretch following the technical, UW went on a 33-13 run to turn a 10-point deficit into a 10-point advantage.

Did the technical spark the Badgers?

"It definitely can," Taylor said. "It got the crowd into it, too. I don't know if he intentionally gets a technical, but it helped a little bit and helped jump start us."

Ryan said his demeanor was not anything the team had not seen before.

"They've seen me like that in practice maybe once in a while, depending on if I had a bad meal or not at lunch," Ryan said. "If that's what it takes, coaches would do that all the time."

Only two Badgers -- Taylor and Evans -- reached double digits in scoring, with Taylor scoring a game-high 22 points. Jared Berggren's five points were the most by any other UW player in the game.

Wisconsin only connected on four field goals before halftime, one apiece by Evans, Berggren, Taylor and Josh Gasser. Over a stretch of more than 20 minutes, Taylor was the only Badger to score a field goal until Mike Bruesewitz made a layup with 16:04 to go in the game.

That shot included a foul on Andre Hollins, one that initially was a charge called against Bruesewitz. After huddling together, the officials reversed the call and Bruesewitz hit the free throw to tie the game.

"You're gonna huddle like that and change the call? Are you kidding me?" Tubby Smith said. "It's a joke. It really is."

Ryan said the ability to confer with other officials on whether a player was inside the restricted area under the basket was laid out as an option before the season.

They got together after that play and determined Hollins was inside the arc, making it a blocking foul, rather than a charge.

"I thought he was inside the circle, that's kind of why I went up," Bruesewitz said. "Coach Ryan always tells us to attack if guys are in the circle.

"That would've been my third foul, and I probably would've been sitting on the bench."

If they were not already in control at that point, the Badgers certainly took the game over once it was tied back up.

And what once looked like it could be another Kohl Center upset turned into just another win, the Badgers' 22nd of the season and 11th in Big Ten play.

"We didn't do a good job of throwing the first blow or coming out with a lot of energy," Taylor said. "But we did a good job in the second half of finding a way to turn it around a little bit."


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