Riding yet another standout performance from junior point guard
Devin Harris, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team
(18-6, 9-4) kept itself in the thick of this year’s Big Ten title
race with a 68-45 rout of Penn State (9-15, 3-10) at the Kohl
Center Wednesday night.

Harris finished the game with 25 points, five rebounds and three
assists, while not committing a single turnover.

With their heady floor general leading the way, the Badgers
jumped out to an early 19-4 lead. Harris reeled off three treys,
knocked down a free throw and dished out an assist during this
stretch, and Wisconsin held an advantage on the scoreboard
throughout the rest of the contest.

Like the Badgers’ previous two opponents, the Nittany Lions
primarily made use of a zone defense in an effort to slow down UW
head coach Bo Ryan’s swing offense.

But unlike Illinois and Michigan, Penn State was never able to
get Wisconsin out of sync on a consistent basis.

“I just didn’t think we could guard [Harris] man-to-man tonight
up here,” PSU head coach Ed DeChellis said. “I just thought they
would post up (Boo) Wade and (Freddie) Owens, and we wanted to try
and limit their opportunities. We knew Harris was going to score
but we were going to try and limit the other guys, and we thought
that the zone could do that.”

Wade and Owens finished the game with just two and eight points,
respectively, but their ball distribution and performances on the
defensive end made up for their lack of scoring.

Wade dished out six assists and swiped three steals — both of
which were game-highs — while his backcourt mate Owens snared down
two rebounds, registered two assists and had a hand in holding Penn
State’s Ben Luber scoreless on 0-4 shooting.

“Guys did a good job of stepping up tonight, even if it wasn’t
scoring,” said UW forward Mike Wilkinson, who finished the game
with 14 points and a game-high nine boards. “They did a lot of
different things, especially on the defensive end, that I think
really helped us overall. They got some steals, they played good
defense, they got some key rebounds.”

Although Wilkinson and Wisconsin were able to jump out to an
early lead, they entered halftime with just a 30-22 advantage.

And Penn State used its late-first-half surge and carry it into
the contest’s second stanza, cutting the game to as close as 30-26
with 17:36 left to play.

This was the closest they would get, however, as the Badgers
made use of a timeout to regroup and then sailed to an easy
win.

“We came out in the second half and got some open looks that we
didn’t knock down in the first few minutes, and they did a good job
of going down there and getting what they wanted,” Wilkinson said.
“But we got to the point where we got a couple baskets, and then we
got some stops. Then the crowd got into it, and it just kind of
went on from there.”

A large part of UW’s second-half success can be attributed to
the team’s ability to contain Penn State forward Jan Jagla at the
offensive end.

After scoring 14 points on 6-9 shooting in the game’s first
half, Jagla netted just two points in the contest’s final 20
minutes.

“Jagla’s been played by perimeter players, big players; he’s
been played by a lot of different players,” UW head coach Bo Ryan
said. “In the second half we got into a good rotation on him, where
different guys played him. And he didn’t get real comfortable in
the second half. He was in a lounge chair in the first half, he was
that comfortable.”

Aside from the increased pressure on Jagla, Coach Ryan just felt
the Badgers’ offense was flowing better in the game’s second
half.

“How about 19 assists for 24 fields goals? I was impressed with
that. I was pleased with that because that’s what you have to do
against a zone,” Ryan said. “You can’t drive into the middle and
pull up and take all jump shots. You can’t take step-back threes,
which means you created your own shot, which means there’s not an
assist involved there. I thought we did a good job of moving the
ball. We have to continue to do that.”

The victory over the Nittany Lions ended a two-game skid in
conference play for the Badgers. The team will be in action again
Sunday when it plays the final home game of the season against
Purdue (17-9, 7-6).