Wisconsin players took to the court Saturday afternoon before their game with Indiana wearing warm-up shirts donning the slogan “rise to the occasion.”
And that’s just what the Badgers did for the second time this season against the top-seeded Hoosiers, this time at the United Center Saturday afternoon.
Relying on the toughness of post players and fellow redshirt seniors Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren, the Badgers (23-10) frustrated the Hoosiers (27-6) all 40 minutes, grinding out a 68-56 victory to advance to the Big Ten tournament championship game for the first time since 2008.
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the defensive effort on a very good offensive team,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “Every guy that went in there was sticking to the rules and trying to force Indiana to make some tough shots and I thought our guys accomplished that.”
Evans led all scorers with 16 points, while also putting forth a total overall effort that included eight rebounds, four assists, four blocks and a steal. Berggren chipped in 11 points and five rebounds himself. Christian Watford led all Hoosier players with 14 points.
“We had some critical turnovers at key times, we had some critical second shots we gave up at key times,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said. “Wisconsin played very well, they shot the ball very well, they made some open ones. They also made some tough ones and they answered the bell every time we made a comeback.”
Redshirt senior Mike Bruesewitz and Evans frustrated first team All-Big Ten selection Victor Oladipo over the entire game, containing his dribble penetration and forcing him to take jump shots from around the free throw line. Even though the Hoosiers’ star had 10 points and four steals, the Badgers’ defenders forced him into committing four turnovers.
Wisconsin opened up the second half with a Berggren dunk on an inbounds pass from sophomore point guard Traevon Jackson to jumpstart a 6-0 run, as a turnaround jumper from Evans over Oladipo and layup from Berggren gave the team a 40-31 lead.
But Indiana would answer. Freshman point guard Yogi Ferell, who finished the game with just six points, scored a fading layup over Berggren to end the run. On the following possession forward Cody Zeller slammed it in for an old-fashioned three-point play. After a Wisconsin turnover and another Ferrell layup, the game was knotted up at 40-40 and the Indiana fans rose to their feet, cheering in a deafening roar.
Looking for an answer similar to the one sophomore center Frank Kaminsky provided against a surging Michigan Friday, Saturday afternoon saw freshman Sam Dekker provide similar heroics for Wisconsin.
Dekker, an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection — defended by the player who was selected as the conference’s sixth man of the year over him, Indiana’s Will Sheehey — answered the call to stem the tide of the Hoosiers run with a personal 7-0 run, giving Wisconsin a lead it would never surrender.
With the game tied at 43, Dekker took over. The freshman grabbed a loose ball and drew a foul from Oladipo on his first score, grabbing the lead. The following possessions saw Dekker drain a three and convert a contested layup to put the Badgers back on top 50-43.
“That’s a lot we don’t talk about, guys like Frank and Sam coming in and stepping up, how big that is for us,” Evans said. “Guys off the bench … that’s needed if you want to win a championship in any tournament.”
The Badgers picked up right where they left off at the United Center in the first half. After torching the nets in the second half against Michigan, Wisconsin put on a solid display of offense against Indiana in the game’s first 20 minutes, shooting 51.7 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc before heading into the locker room with a 34-31 lead.
But Indiana was able to match that offensive power, as the Big Ten’s top-ranked offense shot 44.4 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond the arc, helping it keep pace with its hot-shooting opponent.
The Hoosiers were able to limit the minutes of Berggren and Jackson in the first half, as both picked up two fouls in the half. Berggren’s came during back-to-back possessions at around the eight minute mark, as Zeller was able to force the big man to the Badgers’ bench.
It was a frustrating game for Zeller, who struggled to find open looks all afternoon. Despite finishing with 13 points and 11 rebounds for the double-double, the sophomore center was by no means as effective as he was during the team’s first meeting with Wisconsin, when he scored 18 first half points.
“They did a nice job inside of not fouling me, clogging up the lane a lot,” Zeller said.
Wisconsin will play Ohio State in the tournament championship game Sunday.