Calling the Wisconsin versus Marquette matchup Saturday afternoon a “game of contrasts” would be an accurate, if simple way to define the I-94 rivalry.
In Milwaukee, they boast a Big East — read: national exposure — private school that has been consumed with its basketball team since Al McGuire roamed the sidelines. Here in Madison, UW fans are treated to a Big Ten, public university and a hoops squad that often takes a backseat to football, and occasionally even hockey.
While all of these differences may make for an entertaining lead up to the game itself, only one contrast mattered on the floor in the Badgers’ 72-63 win.
MU’s speed against UW’s size.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan made it quite clear after the game which he prefers.
“Marv Harshman, great coach at Washington, when asked would he rather have size or speed, he said size. And the reporter asked him why, he said, “Because when people get tired, speed slows down. Size doesn’t shrink,’” Ryan said before backing off the statement a little bit. “Size is good. Speed is good. The combination is good.”
With Marquette starting a lineup that had their forwards listed at 6-foot-7 (Joseph Fulce) and 6-foot-6 (Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler), Wisconsin’s second-leading scorer Jon Leuer knew he would have some opportunities in the paint.
Simply put, he took advantage of them.
The junior forward poured in 24 points for the game on 9-of-14 shooting and by reaching the free-throw line seven times.
Wit turnaround jumpers, baby hooks and even sinking the lone 3-pointer he attempted, Leuer showed off an arsenal that cannot be stopped, and on this day, even slowed down.
“(Leuer) was really good off the bench last year,” MU head coach Buzz Williams said. “I told our guys, ‘I don’t know if you remember him, but he is really, really good.’ His length, his skill set, his intelligence level is a really, really hard matchup.”
With Leuer going off for 24 points at UW-Green Bay in the Badgers’ loss Wednesday night, the UW plan from the start was to ride the hot hand.
Finding Leuer deep in the post and even for a tip-in alley oop in the first half, the Badgers occasionally just gave the 6-foot-10 forward the ball anywhere on the court and let him go to work.
Finishing the first half with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting, UW was able to ride Leuer’s quick outburst to a 40-31 lead.
“The game plan was to get him to the post,” senior guard Trevon Hughes said. “Marquette’s first losses were against Florida State and North Carolina State, and they were losing early on in the game because they were taking bad shots.
“Jon was hitting some tough shots, and at the same time, he was getting them into decent foul trouble. We had the size advantage, and we wanted to take advantage of that. That was our plan all week.”
To Ryan, the most impressive part of Leuer’s performance was his ability to get open in spots he was comfortable with.
With up to four different defenders getting their shot trying to front Leuer in the post, the UW big man was often pushed out to 15 feet or further but still able to capitalize.
“Jon works to get open. So, if you get open, then you should get the ball,” Ryan said. “I don’t want to be simplistic, but he worked hard to get open in the post — he cut hard, and he is stronger this year.
“He’s getting in position a little better, and he gets rewarded because his teammates know that he can do something with [the ball] when he gets it,” Ryan continued. “But you still have to make the shots, and he’s been doing that.”