Badgers' title march continues

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Aaron Brenner/Special to the Gazette
February 29, 2008
— Just like that, with 40 minutes of inspired basketball against a perennial Big Ten powerhouse, the University of Wisconsin men’s team is another step closer to a conference championship.

Brian Butch scored 16 points, senior guard Michael Flowers played smothering defense on Spartans guard Drew Neitzel, and the Badgers committed just one turnover to knock off Michigan State, 57-42, here Thursday night at the Kohl Center.

Tenth-ranked Wisconsin (24-4, 14-2 Big Ten) still needs outside help to get more than a share of the title. Purdue and Indiana also have only two conference losses, but with only two games remaining against cellar-dwellers Penn State and Northwestern, the Badgers’ ultimate goal is well in sight.

“The main thing is we’re worried about the next one, but we do realize what’s out there,” said Butch, UW’s senior center and emotional leader. “We realize that we’ve got a great opportunity.”

That opportunity was put at risk with No. 19 Michigan State (22-6, 10-5) coming to town, but the Spartans couldn’t place their past woes at the Kohl Center behind them. In fact, they were held to their second-lowest scoring output of the season on 34 percent shooting.

“That is what’s going to keep you in games, no matter what, is your defense,” Butch said. “Offensively, you can get stuck at times … but if you keep the other team from scoring, you can be in any ballgame.”

When the Spartans knocked the Badgers from their No. 1 national ranking last season at East Lansing, Mich., Neitzel torched Wisconsin for 28 points. But Flowers chased him around all night this time and won the individual battle, as Neitzel was 1-for-10 with just one three-pointer.

Flowers has been established as one of the Big Ten’s best on-ball defenders, but he raised his level so much Thursday that he had backcourt mate Trevon Hughes grasping for a proper explanation.

“He’s got a motor. I think he feeds on oil. He doesn’t eat regular food,” Hughes deadpanned. “I’m praising my teammate because I want to play defense just like that.”

On the other end of the court, Butch showed he has officially left his three-point shooting struggles behind, going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc.

“It’s just one of those things where as a shooter, you just keep on shooting the ball and at some point, it’s going to go down,” said Butch, who was 3-for-32 on threes on Jan. 24, but has since averaged 60 percent (15-of-25). “Recently, I’ve been shooting the ball well, and it feels good.”

But the stat that makes Butch and his teammates happiest is the one dictating how well they took care of the ball. Just one turnover—committed by junior forward Joe Krabbenhoft midway through the first half—is the lowest in UW history. It bested the two-turnover game on March 3, 1993, against Penn State.

“That’s a big thing, because we’re controlling the pace of the game,” Hughes said. “We’re not giving them a chance to run, which plays a big part (in the win).”

But the perfectionist that is UW coach Bo Ryan, well…

“That’s too many,” Ryan said of the single turnover. “We got on Joe in the locker room; his teammates did. He got an offensive rebound and put the ball down, and it disappeared.”

Ryan then added that he has never coached a team with just one turnover, and has never seen it happen.

“How many games do you see a team with one turnover, against a team that plays pretty good ‘D’ and will get in your shorts?” Ryan asked. “I don’t know what else you can say, but our guys do value the ball.”

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