CHICAGO — As shot after shot continued to clank off the rim, Wisconsin’s chances of spending another day at the Big Ten Tournament were falling to a level even worse than their 17.2 first-half shooting percentage.
The United Center halftime show may have just helped them out, as a crew of trampoline basketball artists wowed the crowd and thundered the Wisconsin hoop with high-flying dunk after high-flying dunk.
Outstanding story aside, the rattling of Wisconsin’s rim just about ended as the second half began as the Badgers (22-10) flipped the switch in an extreme way, shooting 60.7 percent in the final 20 minutes en route to a 68-59 quarterfinal victory over No. 6 Michigan (26-7).
The second-half onslaught helped Wisconsin climb out of a three-point halftime deficit, as the team’s three starting seniors made sure the game wasn’t the last conference matchup of their career.
Seniors spark second-half offensive show
Although it was clear the entire team struggled from the floor in the opening 20 minutes — the Badgers converted just five of their 29 attempts — their three starting seniors were doing nothing to eliminate the trend. Mike Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans had shot a combined 2-for-13, totaling just five points.
“Our three seniors, it was mentioned at halftime … that they were 2-for-13,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “We needed a little help from the seniors.”
At the outset of the second half, it seemed like those seniors — or at least one of them — were never going to be able to reverse Wisconsin’s fortunes.
Berggren opened the second half with three missed layups on back-to-back possessions. But once a shot finally fell in the half, all three big men quickly found their groove.
With 18:46 left in the second, Evans started with a layup before assisting a Ben Brust three-pointer one possession later. Berggren missed another layup before collecting his own miss with the and-1 follow.
A Berggren layup followed off an Evans assist before sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky extended Wisconsin’s lead to 29-24 off yet another assist from Evans. Then it was Bruesewitz’s turn.
Michigan had cut the Wisconsin lead to 32-30 with more than 13 minutes to go. Bruesewitz was in the midst of a lengthy shooting slump — having made just three of his previous 23 attempts from behind the arc. The forward promptly broke out of the slump by swishing his first and then quickly another just two possessions later, putting Wisconsin back up six.
Bruesewitz’s pair of threes represented one of the “big points” that Michigan head coach John Beilein pointed to following the game.
“Bruesewitz [was] stepping up, hitting the threes,” Beilein said. “They had some 20-percent guys who really shot the ball well.”
The trio of seniors shot a combined 8-for-16 in the second half, tallying 23 of Wisconsin’s 51 second half points.
Although Wisconsin’s offense skied to new heights, Michigan didn’t fade. Their star guard simply wouldn’t let them.
Battle of point guards goes Wisconsin’s way
For much of the game, Michigan’s Trey Burke displayed exactly why he was chosen as the Big Ten Player of the Year earlier this week. It was Burke with the opening points of the game and it was Burke with a flurry of buckets in the waning minutes of the tight battle.
It was Traevon Jackson, however, a rookie point guard by most standards — one who did not collect any all-conference awards this year — who triumphed with the final strike in a game-long battle of floor generals.
Burke was his usual self, if not better in the game’s opening minutes, contributing two buckets and assisting on four others to his teammates as Michigan opened an early 12-6 lead.
The defensive combination of Jackson and redshirt freshman George Marshall struggled to keep the drive-happy Burke out of the lane, but as the game wore on, Jackson and Marshall proved that all they really needed was to make Burke’s tries slightly more difficult.
“Some of his shots looked good, some of his floaters and his runners were really good,” Jackson said. “[We] just tried to contest everything because he’s that good of a player to where you really can’t stop him … you just have to hope that he misses and make him take tough shots every single time.”
Wisconsin forced Burke into tough looks and difficult offensive sets as he finished the first half with four consecutive misses and three turnovers. He would miss three more to start the second half.
“I got really good looks — good five-foot to seven-foot jump shots and was open on a lot of them — they just weren’t falling today,” Burke said. “That’s something I have to continue to play through and keep my teammates going.”
The sophomore guard did just that, remaining the focal point of the Michigan offense with three assists and 10 points over a nine-minute stretch that cut the Wolverine deficit to just two with 3:37 to go. However, it was his adversary Jackson who closed the game.
The sophomore guard assisted a Kaminsky three-pointer and converted five of six free throw attempts in the final minutes, leading the Badgers to just their second conference tournament victory in five seasons.
Jackson finished with a team-high 16 points for Wisconsin.
Evans and Brust both pointed to Jackson’s play-calling rather than his scoring as a key reason for Wisconsin’s season-high point total in the second half and helping the aforementioned seniors get things going, extending their Big Ten careers an additional day.