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Badgers pick apart Illinois

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Benjamin Worgull
January 11, 2008
— Seniors come and go throughout the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball program, but coach Bo Ryan’s teams always register success.

There’s not something special in the water or a special mystique flying in the rafters of the Kohl Center that propels Wisconsin to victory after victory.


No, Ryan says the secret in the Badgers consistently and tirelessly working on their fundamentals.


And it showed again here Thursday night a 70-60 victory over Illinois, which boosted 24th-ranked Wisconsin to 3-0 in the Big Ten and 13-2 overall.


“I keep telling you (media) guys, and you never believe me, that it’s coaching,” Ryan joked earlier. “Our players know how important fundamentals are to the success of the team.”


Showing no selfishness, the Badgers were able to build and sustain a lead over Illinois (8-8, 0-3) with simple ball movement. That led to a multitude of wide-open lay-ups and uncontested perimeter jump shots, depriving Illinois of a chance to notch a third straight win at the Kohl Center.


Not only were the Badgers’ passes crisp, but the ability for Wisconsin to be active in the post and get looks into the paint were a big factor in a seventh straight win. Although the stats reflect only a plus-four edge in the post, the pounding into the lane allowed for the Badgers to consistently find the open man.


“The more that we concentrate on getting the ball inside, the more other teams have to defend us inside, and that creates more open shots for our guys,” said 6-11 senior Brian Butch, who scored 16 points.


“That’s the nice thing about this team. We have a lot of options, and that combination makes us pretty tough.”


But being fundamentally sound only takes a team so far, as the Badgers had to take advantage of the uncontested looks Illinois was giving them.


After shooting just 2-for-7 from three-point range in the first half and having Illinois cut a 10-point lead to 44-41 with 9:33 left in the game, the Wisconsin backcourt got the message. And for the time being, the Badgers found the shooting touch.


Wide open in front of the Badger bench, sophomore Jason Bohannon, who had missed six of seven three-point attempts, connected from long range to give Wisconsin some breathing room at 47-41. Trevon Hughes followed with a steal on the defensive end and wasted no time in connecting on a three-pointer from the top of the key.


Suddenly, a slim lead swelled to a comfortable nine-point margin, and Illinois never threatened again. The Badgers made five three-pointers in the final 20 minutes, but none were as critical as the sequence started by Bohannon.


“They went three straight times on ball screens, and each time they picked us apart,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “That (sequence) was probably the back-breaker for our team.”


Hampered by a nasty ankle sprain just before the Big Ten season, Hughes had one of his best games as a Badger. Playing 36 minutes, the sophomore scored 22 points (three short of his career high) on an efficient 8-of-13 shooting and six steals.


But the number that pleased Ryan the most was Hughes’ assist-to-turnover margin. The point guard tied a career-high with five assists—all in the second half—while committing only two turnovers.


“Trevon made some really good passes,” Ryan said. “He found people, and that’s what makes good things happen.”


With the two winningest Big Ten programs since the start of the 2001 season matching up, a one-sided victory isn’t the norm, especially with some of the battles the Badgers and Illini have had the past four years.


But with the fundamentally sound Badgers clicking on all cylinders, and the Illini suffering a fourth straight loss for the first time in the Weber era, the Illinois coach sees the power of the Big Ten shifting toward Madison because of the Ryan system.


“Bo gets them to believe in the system, believe in their roles, accept and take pride in their roles and execute their roles,” Weber said. “They make you earn everything. That is what makes them successful.”



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