Iowa City, Iowa — With an expert in the theory and practice of the game of basketball at your helm, it’s no surprise Badgers head coach Bo Ryan is an absolute stickler when it comes to turnovers. Essentially, a turnover is a free pass to the hoop in Ryan’s mind, and without looking at any game tape he can probably give you a detailed description of every single turnover his team commits in a single game.
For the Badgers, it’s been a benefit that they haven’t committed many turnovers over their recent stretch. Not only has it kept Ryan from berating them, but it has also allowed the Badgers to reel off four wins out of their last five games.
Against Iowa Saturday, winning the turnover battle proved to be the Badgers’ saving grace; they had to overcome a severe rebounding deficit as well as being limited in their trips to the charity stripe.
By winning the turnover battle 8-18, the Badgers were able to pull away from the Hawkeyes with the help of some timely play making. By forcing turnovers, Wisconsin was able to corral 21 points off Hawkeye miscues, enough of a difference to overcome being out-rebounded 22-44 and being held to only 13 trips to the line.
“Tonight we hammered [Wisconsin] on the boards,” Iowa head coach Steve Alford said. “The difference was they turned it over eight [times], and we turned it over 18. That’s 10 possessions in a game you expected to be relatively close. Ten possessions becomes a huge hurdle to get over.”
With Ryan, the key to his teams’ successes, from Platteville to UW, has been controlling the boards and getting to the line. But by controlling the ball and making smart decisions, the deficits become less of a concern.
“I thought we made good decisions,” Ryan said. “I thought Iowa was playing good, tough defense. To not turn it over in here, in this environment, [our players] deserve a lot of credit.”
For Iowa, the defense collapsed in the second half as Mike Wilkinson found his mark to carry the scoring load for the Badgers. After limiting UW to 34.6 percent shooting in the first half, Iowa’s pressure fell off as many players began to delve into foul trouble, and the Badgers were able to hit 14 of 26 shots in the second half to take the win.
“It was our goal to go into this ball game to protect the ball,” Alford said. “At halftime it was just about even — the turnovers were right about even. I think that’s why we were up by eight — because we were pounding them on the boards and we weren’t losing the turnover game. We really got hurt in the second half. They didn’t turn it over, and we turned it over a lot.”
All season, the Badgers have reaped the benefits of winning the turnover battle, and their margin of plus-3.88 is second in the nation. By protecting the ball, UW has been able to prevail over size and depth deficiencies that were concerns at the start of the season.
An Iowa frontline consisting of no player under 6-foot-7 proved quite a challenge for the Badgers as forwards Sean Sonderleiter and Glen Worley had their way in the post. The Hawkeyes outscored the Badgers 34-22 in the post, and Worley corralled 14 rebounds all by himself.
Despite Iowa’s domination, it was the protection of the ball that proved to be the difference in deciding the game.
“It’s hard, because I thought we really competed on the backboard,” Alford sad. “You look at the board play — it’s a big differential, because one team shot worse than the other. Both teams shot around 44 percent, and the free throws were about the same. The difference was we just didn’t take care of it. We’d just get a rebound, and then we’d throw it away.”