MILWAUKEE, Wis. — Throughout the 2003-04 campaign, the UW men’s basketball team has relied on its suffocating defense and physical style of play to gain an edge on the opposition. The Badgers (25-7) got a taste of their own medicine Sunday, however, as Jaron Brown and the Panthers (31-4) exploited a size advantage to propel Pittsburgh to its third-straight Sweet Sixteen.
“We thought we could bang, we thought we could hang,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “We did the things we normally try to do. They just were much more physical than us … we have played some teams that are big, but these guys are big, strong and active all the time. And they were the better team.”
Led by junior forward Chevon Troutman’s career-high 14 rebounds, the Panthers out-muscled and out-hustled the Badgers on the glass and won the battle on the boards 40-31.
Following Troutman, Pittsburgh point guard Carl Krauser and forward Jaron Brown snared down eight and six rebounds, respectively.
“[Rebounding] is a big strength of ours, a big emphasis of ours,” said first-year Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon. “We out-rebounded them, and that is one of our goals going into every game. Obviously ‘Chevy’s’ 14 rebounds are a lot, but our guards rebounded well, Carl (Krauser) rebounded well. It was a great team effort on the boards.”
Big East Rookie of the Year Chris Taft, who is also a candidate for National Freshman of the Year, and his Panther mates turned a number of arrant shots into either emphatic putback dunks or easy lay-ups.
Fifteen of Pittsburgh’s 40 rebounds came at the offensive end, which led to 14 second-chance points.
“Anytime someone gets second chances, it makes things a little bit more difficult,” said UW forward Mike Wilkinson, who finished with nine points and six rebounds. “For the most part, we had our chances to get the rebounds. They kept them alive, they got hands on them, and they did a good job of keeping them alive for themselves. They were just able to corral a few more than we were. And anytime a team gets offensive rebounds, it makes it hard.”
One of the Panthers the Badgers were never able to consistently slow down was Pittsburgh senior Jaron Brown. Brown finished the game with just eight points and four rebounds but kept a number of loose balls alive that ultimately led to Panther possessions.
Although his 6-foot-4, 229-pound frame make him well suited for interior play, he possesses the athleticism to play a variety of positions.
Whether he was boxing out Zach Morley to gain position in the frontcourt or chasing his second-half defensive assignment Devin Harris around screens, Brown was a thorn in the Badgers’ side all day long.
“[Brown] did a great job,” Coach Ryan said. “He was a senior who didn’t want to stop playing. He was relentless on the glass, and he’s a tough defender … he was definitely one of the guys that made them four points better than us today. He did a lot of the little things.”
Aside from Brown and the Panthers’ edge on the boards, Pittsburgh’s tough defense on Devin Harris and the Badger scorers also proved to be pivotal to their team’s success Sunday.
Wisconsin shot just 35.4-percent from the field and committed 13 turnovers — including six from point guard Devin Harris. And Mike Wilkinson, who averages 13.1 points per game, was held to just nine points on 2-8 shooting.
“We’ve played a lot of good defensive teams throughout the course of the year,” Wilkinson said. “You’ve got to give them credit, they play great defense. They’re physical, they get into you, and they make everything tough like we try to do. They’re one of the best defensive teams I think we’ve played all year.”
Despite losing the rebounding battle and not being able to find much of a rhythm offensively, the Badgers were able to make a run and tie the game at 52 with 3:03 left to play.
Following this juncture in the game, however, Krauser got the corner on Wilkinson and converted a lay-up to once again give the Panthers the lead. After a missed 3-pointer by Harris, Krauser missed a jumper of his own. But Jaron Brown corralled the offensive rebound, was fouled and converted on each of his bonus free throws.
The stretch basically served as a microcosm for the Badgers primary struggles on the day.
“They got up a little bit, and we ended up tying it. We were right where we wanted to be,” Harris said. “But I think some turnovers kind of killed our momentum and allowed them to get ahead, along with the offensive rebounds.”
While Wisconsin seemed a little out of sync offensively at times and Harris and Clayton Hanson never really found their shooting touch in the game’s second half, much of the credit for Pittsburgh’s success Sunday could be attributed to their tough defense and tenacity on the glass.
“They’re big guys; they did a good job of working hard and never quitting,” Wilkinson said. “We just needed to make them work a little bit harder, and hopefully we could have wore them out a bit little more. But you’ve got to give them credit, they kept going.”