For a team that spends a majority of its time camped outside of the three point arc, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team went for a change of pace Wednesday night and made the paint their home at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Northwestern (13-14, 4-10 Big Ten) never stood a chance against Wisconsin (19-8, 10-4 Big Ten) around the rim Wednesday with their injuries and lack of size obviously holding them back.
An injury-plagued season has left the Wildcats without four players and head coach Bill Carmody’s squad lacking in the size department, since three of the injured are 6-foot-6-inches or taller.
Fifth year senior center Jared Berggren and the Badgers were quick to realize Northwestern’s weakness in the post and made a point to take advantage of it.
“We had a height advantage at our front line positions and kind of an experience advantage too,” Berggren said. “They have some younger guys in there, so it was something that we tried to take advantage of and just use our size, experience and our ability and just try to hurt them in [the paint].”
Wisconsin was able to get to a fast start around the basket in the first half, out-rebounding Northwestern 23-8.
The Badgers’ perimeter game was not running as smoothly as their inside presence to begin the game, shooting just over 18 percent from beyond the arc, but UW’s big men were able to clean up their sharpshooters’ mess with 10 second chance points before the halfway point.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said it was Northwestern’s lack of a transition threat that allowed his team to utilize the basket region and take advantage of offensive rebounds.
“Offensive rebounding definitely played in our favor, getting those second and third opportunities,” Ryan said. “If you’re not going to get some fast break points on a team then really you can send three guys hard to the glass. We had three guys going to the glass and they were opportunistic.”
The Badgers headed to the visiting locker room in the first half with nine offensive rebounds under their belt and 14 points in the paint.
The zone defense put on the floor by Northwestern in the first half proved to be a catalyst for Wisconsin’s ability to attack the glass instead of an obstacle since UW was regularly able to draw multiple defenders away from the paint and attract them to the top of the key, allowing the Badgers to find players open down low.
Berggren said Wisconsin was patient with their passes up top and found the extra pass to beat the zone and then find the open man inside.
“Especially in the first half I thought we did a good job with [exploiting the paint] when they were playing zone,” Berggren said. “You look to attack when a team plays zone. We knew that that was going to be an area we could take advantage of and we did a pretty good job doing that.”
To start the second half, the Wildcats threw their man defense at the Badgers, which threw Ryan’s club off for the first couple of minutes, but UW was able to adjust and continue to get points in the paint.
Northwestern senior guard Reggie Hearn said Wisconsin’s size advantage became even more prevalent in the second half – a problem his team was unable to find an answer to.
“In the second half they started throwing it down to the post whether it was [Sam] Dekker, [Mike] Bruesewitz, Berggren, [Ryan] Evans and just kind of pounding us and taking advantage of their size,” Hearn said. “I don’t think they did anything real special with their swing offense or anything. They just took advantage of their size and we didn’t fight hard enough.”
The largest evidence of Wisconsin’s dominant play in the paint and ability to finish around the rim can be seen by their 28 points scored in the paint compared to Northwestern’s six. Berggren was Wisconsin’s biggest beneficiary of UW’s dominant play around the rim ending up with team highs in points, 12, and rebounds, eight.
After the Badgers dominating effort around the rim, Berggren said it was Wisconsin’s ability to fight and be aggressive that proved to be vital in a critical conference win.
“[Our ability to dominate in the post came from]being aggressive, being hungry and fighting for loose balls,” Berggren said. “With me and Mike, Ryan and Sam, some guys that can use our length and size a little bit, we tried to take advantage of it, be aggressive and attack the glass. It was obviously a pretty big key for us.”