OMAHA, Neb. � There is always any number of reasons why one team defeats another. In Wisconsin�s 71-56 win over Cal State Fullerton Thursday, one statistic more than any other stands out as most significant.
The Badgers held the Big West champion Titans, a team that averaged more than 82 points per game during the regular season, to a scant 56 points on 68 possessions, well below Wisconsin�s target defensive efficiency mark of 1.0 points per possession.
All that despite allowing Fullerton guard Josh Akognon to score 31 points on 11-of-23 shooting.
�I never worry about the total number (of points), I just worry about possessions, and the number of points the other team gets on them,� UW head coach Bo Ryan said. �They did not get one point per possession, even though he got .�
Akognon did most of his damage during an eight-minute stretch late in the second half, when the junior scored 13 consecutive points for Fullerton. With the Titans facing a double-digit deficit, the shooter went down gunning, making a trio of 3-pointers to keep his team in the game.
�As a defender, all you can do is try to get a hand in his face and disrupt his natural shot,� said UW guard Michael Flowers, who spent a good chunk of his 39 minutes of play chasing Akognon all over the Qwest Center court. �Players are going to get their points. There is some incredible talent in this tournament, obviously, so the only thing I�m worrying about as a defender is making it hard.�
Wisconsin was able to slow down the Titans, literally and figuratively, by limiting their fast break opportunities. Fullerton scored just five points in transition.
That shouldn�t come as much of a surprise considering the emphasis Ryan and the UW program place on eliminating easy opportunities for opponents.
�Protecting the rim in transition is probably the first drill I remember as a Badger coming here,� forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. �Protect the rim first, everybody else hustle back and find shooters.�
Given the Titans� high-octane offense, there was an even greater need to adhere to those rules Thursday night.
�Especially on this team tonight, we really had to hustle back and get a hand in the face of (Josh) Akognon and (Frank) Robinson and guys like that, because they can really light you up from deep.�
It is all part of Ryan�s grand scheme, and has been for as long as the Badger head man has been roaming the sidelines at any level of play. This year, that scheme finished the season allowing the fewest points per game in the nation.
�My job � was to make sure nobody scored a layup [against] our team,� Ryan said. �Bitty league, junior high, high school, college: protect the rim. Take charges. Try to scare guys from coming into the lane.�
That defensive strategy seemed to be turned on its head somewhat Thursday. With the Badgers worried about letting the sharp-shooting Titans � CSF led the Big West Conference with 278 made 3-pointers during the season and connected on nearly 39 percent of their deep shots � bomb away from the perimeter, UW extended its defense somewhat, opening the lane for hard cuts to the hoop. Fullerton finished the game with 24 points in the paint.
�What they�re establishing,� Ryan said of the Titans� offense, �your team has to be able to counter that during the course of the game, and our guys did a real good job of that tonight.�