If Indiana forward Cody Zeller wasn’t planted firmly in his seat along the Hoosier bench Thursday night, then you can bet he was on the floor being harassed by Wisconsin’s defenders.
Namely, forward Jared Berggren and, to a lesser degree, Mike Bruesewitz.
Prior to Thursday’s nights 57-50 Wisconsin (17-5, 6-3 Big Ten) victory over Indiana (16-5, 4-5 Big Ten), Zeller, the top-dog in the Big Ten’s highest-scoring offense, averaged 15.1 points per game – ninth-best in the conference – and he’d typically compliment that with 6.4 rebounds as well.
But in a game of one-upmanship that featured 10 lead changes, Berggren, a junior, neutralized the freshman phenom to a mere seven points and three rebounds on just 19 minutes of play due to early and often foul trouble.
In fact, it took until the second half for Zeller to become a factor at all, since he entered the locker room with one missed shot, one rebound and two fouls to his name.
“Jared did a great job on Zeller,” UW guard Jordan Taylor said, who finished with 10 points. “[Zeller] is obviously one of the best players in the country, and what Jared was able to do to him was impressive.”
Berggren, who tallied five blocks and four points on the night, wasn’t the only Badger defender who executed Thursday. Prior to tip off, the Hoosiers featured five players averaging 10 points or more per game and only two – Verdell Jones III and Christian Watford – reached double figures against the Badgers, each scoring 12.
Nevertheless, Indiana still ran a more efficient offense than Wisconsin, hitting 45.7 percent of its field goals, while UW hit 39.6 and was forced into desperate and fruitless shot clock-beating heaves several times throughout the night.
So to draw fouls on Zeller early (which kept him idle for just over half the game) and for Berggren to keep him hushed in the meantime proved to be a critical component of Wisconsin’s fifth-consecutive win.
“[Zeller's] the real deal inside, and fortunately we got some fouls on him and that helped us,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “But Jared is getting better with his feet.”
Berggren quickly established the upper hand over Zeller on both sides of the ball. After a missed jumper from IU guard Jordan Hulls, Zeller got flagged for a push-off on Berggren on the ensuing rebound.
On the next possession, Berggren scored down low on the 6-foot-11 forward. As the ball went back down the court, Berggren blocked Zeller’s attempted layup.
It ended up being Zeller’s only shot attempt of the half, and he took a seat shortly after. Later, Josh Gasser drew another foul on Zeller with 4:30 left in the half, prompting another trip to the bench.
All told, Zeller played nine minutes in the first half.
“When you’re able to do some things defensively, you can set a tone, I guess,” Berggren said. “I just tried to work him all night. I knew that he was a good player and I had to limit his touches and then just try to battle with him and try to make everything difficult for him, and I was able to come up with a couple blocks that helped the team.”
Zeller found some room to breathe in the second period, but barely any. Zeller scored seven points in the half but did so on 1-of-6 shooting from the field.
Two more of his shots were blocked by Berggren early in the period, and two more fouls prevented Zeller from getting into rhythm.
And even with Berggren sitting and Zeller on the floor, the Kohl Center remained a desert of opportunity for the freshman.
Forced to save his star forward for the game’s waning moments, Indiana head coach Tom Crean deployed Zeller one last time as Berggren, who had “busted a lip” according to Ryan, stayed on the sidelines.
Bruesewitz, who had already taken a few turns on Zeller earlier in the game, took over and stopped the Hoosier from scoring in the post with 51 seconds left and the score reading 53-50 in UW’s favor.
“It’s very tough,” Crean said, when asked how difficult it is to decide when to put a player with four fouls back into the game. “We had to bide our time as much as we could because we had no real reason to believe [Zeller] was going to get into a flow where he could play significant minutes at the end, so we played it by [ear] as much as we could.”