Devin Harris’ alley-oop to a flying Alando Tucker at the end of Wisconsin’s home victory over Michigan State Tuesday night amused a lot of people. MSU head coach Tom Izzo wasn’t one of them.
Izzo stormed into the post-game press conference visibly perturbed. When asked about the play, he flatly stated he wouldn’t talk about it, but did say, “I would never allow my team to do that.” That comment was likely a direct shot at UW head coach Bo Ryan. Following the game, Izzo had shaken Ryan’s hand curtly and said, “I’ll remember that,” referring to the final play.
For his part, however, Ryan said that he would also be mad if someone did that to his team. He also made it clear that he talked to Harris and Tucker about the play. While he didn’t mention exactly what he said to them, he said he dealt with the situation his own way.
“I understand (Izzo’s reaction), because he’s a competitor and I’m a competitor,” Ryan said at the post-game press conference. “I’ve had people do that to teams I’ve coached when it wasn’t necessary. I addressed that with the players and walked out of there going ‘that’s a 19-year-old (Harris) throwing to an 18-year-old (Tucker) in a situation where Michigan State is the marked team.’”
If anyone understands what it’s like to be the marked team, it’s Ryan. He spent 15 years at UW-Platteville (1984-99), where he amassed a 353-76 record and captured four Division III national championships. So when another team was beating Platteville, they made sure the Pioneers knew about it.
“At Platteville, we had guys, anytime that they could get up, they would try any and every thing at the end of a game to put it to you,” Ryan said. “But that wasn’t the case here. It was a steal, a reaction. Devin gets the loose ball, he dribbles it out, Alando takes off.”
Ryan was vehement that he would never coach his players to do such a thing. Instead, he instructs them to dribble the clock out when the game is well in hand, as it was Tuesday night against the Spartans. The issue was further compounded by the fact that Izzo had told his own players not to foul Wisconsin and let the clock run out. Ryan said he’d call Izzo to rectify the situation.
“It’s not something that I’ve ever coached, you guys know that,” Ryan said to the media. “Be realistic, be intelligent when you talk about this.”
Following the game, Harris said he’d do it differently if he had the final play back. He explained that he meant no disrespect and was simply trying to get the fans excited. But while two respected coaches like Ryan and Izzo will likely put the situation behind them, it’s almost certain that the MSU players have frozen the play in their minds in case they meet UW in the Big Ten, or even NCAA, tournament.
One overlooked aspect of Tuesday night’s win was the Badgers’ incredible transition defense. They prevented Michigan State from scoring any fast break points, an impressive feat, even though the Spartans excel more in the half-court offense.
“If you watch enough tape and look at Michigan State enough, boy, on the fast break, they can get out and get you,” Ryan said. “I thought our guys did a pretty good job of (stopping their fast break).”
Ryan and his players have preached the importance of transition defense all season long. Yet after a 78-60 loss at Purdue Feb. 5, Boilermakers head coach Gene Keady said he felt he could exploit Wisconsin’s transition defense.
After that game, however, Ryan said he wasn’t concerned about Keady’s comment. Instead, Ryan noted that Purdue’s offense excelled on the fast break, so Keady feels they can exploit anybody’s transition defense.
As for the Badgers, they proved that their transition defense is just fine in their victory over the Spartans.