Badgers don't buy American
Wisconsin entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament a popular pick to reach the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan largely because the Badgers feature a more dynamic and diverse offense than previous teams.
So how did UW, seeded No. 2 in the West Regional, overcome an early seven-point deficit against No. 15 American University on Thursday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center?
With defense, of course.
UW held American to a season-low total in points and only 37 field-goal attempts en route to a 75-35 victory in the second round in front of a pro-UW crowd.
The Badgers closed the first half with a 19-3 run to establish a 32-22 halftime lead and then opened the second half with a 21-3 run to push the lead to 53-25 with 11 minutes 6 seconds left.
UW's 40-point margin of victory was a program record in an NCAA Tournament game. The previous mark was 24, set in 2012 against Montana.
“It is great that we can win in different ways,” UW junior guard Josh Gasser said after contributing seven points, four assists and sticky defense on American guard Jesse Reed. “This year's team, yea we can score a little bit better.
“But still we pride ourselves on the defensive end. We pride ourselves on winning 50-50 balls and kind of being the aggressor.
“We say it all the time that the ball's not always going to drop, so you've got to win games in other ways sometimes.”
UW (27-7), which lost its opening NCAA Tournament game last season, advances to face No. 7 Oregon (24-9), a 87-68 winner over No. 10 BYU on Thursday. Starting time is to be determined late Thursday.
American (20-13), hit 7 of its first 11 shots to take a 19-13 lead with 8 minutes 48 seconds left in the first half.
UW tightened its defense and held the Eagles to 16 points and 4-of-26 shooting over the final 28:47 of the game.
The Eagles, whose previous low point total was 44, had three second-half field goals—with 19:04 left, 5:19 left and 2:16 left.
“With that Princeton offense they like to grind teams up and get teams spun around,” UW said sophomore forward Sam Dekker, who was banged on the right knee in the second half but expects to practice today and play Saturday. “We did a good job staying focused and keeping our guys in front of us.
“People talk about our offense but our defense (transitions) so well into our offense.
“When we get stops and we're focused on defense, we're so much better on offense.”
That is precisely what happened Thursday.
UW was 0 of 3 from three-point range and 4 of 13 overall when senior guard Ben Brust buried a three-pointer to pull UW within 17-13 and ignite the crowd.
The Badgers hit 7 of their final 13 shots in the half, including 3 of 6 from three-point range. The 21-3 run to open the second half ended all doubt.
“Ben got us going,” Dekker said.
Brust scored 11 of his 17 points in the final 9:17 of the first half to help UW take the lead for good. He hit 4 of 7 three-pointers, 6 of 9 field-goal attempts overall and added four rebounds and two assists.
Traevon Jackson hit 6 of 8 field-goal attempts and led UW in scoring with 18 points. He added four rebounds, three assists, two steals and only two turnovers in 29 minutes.
Dekker added 11 points, six rebounds and two steals. Frank Kaminsky was limited by foul trouble but combined with freshman Nigel Hayes for 14 points, eight rebounds and three assists and made life miserable for American center Tony Wroblicky (11 points, six turnovers).
John Schoof added 11 points for American. However, eight of those came in the first four minutes of the game. Reed, the team's leading scorer at 13.9 points per game, finished with nine points but made only 2 of 9 shots.
After the early shooting woes, UW shot 57.7 percent in the second half (15 of 26), including 50 percent from 3-point range (7 of 14).
“They got so many different weapons,” American coach Mike Brennan said. “They play so well together and take such good care of the ball inside, outside.
“They're a really, really good team and they defend. That's the biggest thing today. We couldn't score and they stopped us stone cold.”
Next up is an Oregon team that entered the NCAA Tournament averaging 81.8 points per game.
UW's defense will be tested.
“We know (how) we're capable of playing defense,” Hayes said. “We won't expect anything else except another performance like this.”