Taking a quick glance over the stat sheet from Tuesday night’s basketball game between Wisconsin and Maryland, the names Alando Tucker, Sharif Chambliss and Zach Morley jump out at you.
Tucker, igniting the Badger offense, torched the Terrapins for 27 points. Chambliss, coming off the bench, knocked down a game-high three treys. And Morley, padding his numbers with some clutch free throws down the stretch, added 12 points and seven rebounds.
All three were instrumental in the Badgers’ 69-64 win, and all three received their deserved fanfare and press following the game.
But many times the box score doesn’t tell the whole story.
As evidence of this, one needs to look no further than Tuesday night’s game, and the contributions of UW senior forward Mike Wilkinson.
Wilkinson finished the game with a modest line of four points, eight rebounds and two assists. He didn’t take part in any highlight reel alley-oops (Chambliss to Tucker) or make any running no-look passes from the baseline to the top of the key (Morley). He didn’t spike a John Gilchrest jumper into the floor like a volleyball (Brian Butch) or soar over about five guys to tip in the final field goal of the first half (Ray Nixon).
In fact, he didn’t do much to raise an eyebrow of the average fan or stir up conversation among those reading the following day’s newspaper.
But the little things he did over the course of the game helped separate the Badgers from being a 2-2 team and a 3-1 team.
From the opening possession of Tuesday night’s game, Wilkinson’s impact was felt.
Fronting the post and utilizing his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame, he forced an errant post-entry pass into Maryland forward Travis Garrison that ultimately resulted in a fumbled catch and turnover.
Less than two minutes later, he stood strong and drew a player-control foul on Chris McCray, one of the Terrapins’ most effective offensive weapons.
Neither of these plays showed up in the final stat sheet, but McCray wound up getting in foul trouble, eventually fouling out (briefly flipping off the student section upon making his exit), and all-told the Terrapins, normally a very disciplined team, coughed up the ball 18 times.
Although not talked about in the media room following the game, Wilkinson’s most memorable play of the game arguably came at the 14:37 mark of the second half.
In an attempt to help Chambliss bring the ball up the floor, ‘Wilk’ stood strong and totally erased Maryland point guard John Gilchrest on a backcourt screen.
Despite holding his ground and having no malicious intent in mind, he was whistled with his first and only foul of the game and credited with a turnover.
In the box score, both these statistics weakened Wilkinson’s final line.
In terms of the game, however, UW head coach Bo Ryan would likely take the play’s trade-off gladly.
First off, because his screen was so obviously legal, the blown call sent the crowd — as well as Coach Ryan — into a frenzy and gave the Kohl Center faithful yet another reason to get into the game.
Second, because Ekene Ibekwe, who was guarding Wilkinson at the time, failed to call out the screen, Gilchrest lost his composure for a moment and reamed out his frustrated big man after the play.
And finally, although this particular play resulted in a turnover, blasting the opposing team’s point guard — and in this case, its best player — on a backcourt screen has a resonating effect throughout both teams. If nothing else, it has a psychological impact.
So, on the whole, the play proved favorable for the Badgers.
In all honesty, though, Wilkinson’s screen on Gilchrest or his tough defensive play on the Maryland frontcourt isn’t what was most impressive about his game Tuesday night.
His ability to rebound in transition, although not widely discussed, was nothing short of remarkable.
Ask anyone who has played or coached the game before, and they’ll likely tell you it’s one of the most difficult things to do on the floor.
Finding a man, gaining position and adjusting to the ball requires a lot of discipline on the break — especially for interior players, who are many times going for the block — and Wilkinson did it on a consistent basis.
With Maryland’s up-tempo style of play, the ‘Blue Mounds Bruiser’ proved to be a thorn in the Terps’ side all night long — largely due to his aptitude in this area, and it’s something the Badgers will rely on throughout the year.
So, be quick to hand out praise to Tucker, Chambliss and Morley. They did, in fact, have huge individual performances during the Badgers’ biggest win of the season.
But in doing so, don’t forget about the big man from Blue Mounds who was doing the thankless work in the middle.