In one of the Wisconsin basketball team’s most physical, hard-fought victories of the year against Iowa Wednesday night, the Badgers were able to keep one of the Big Ten’s best players from ever getting comfortable.
Iowa forward Aaron White, who entered the game as the lone Hawkeye to average double figures scoring, was held to just 13 points despite the two extra periods of play. He finished well off his 51.9 percent shooting mark on the season on a 3-for-10 night from the floor and missed his only three-point attempt in a 74-70 double overtime win for Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
Much of White’s damage came at the free throw line, where he hit seven of his 11 tries. Two of the Badgers’ premier defenders – fifth-year senior Ryan Evans and senior Mike Bruesewitz – and freshman Sam Dekker were responsible for guarding White for most of the game and held him to just six points heading into the final minute of regulation.
“I think overall we did a pretty good job [of limiting White],” Dekker said. “Mike can always shut guys down, he just plays so hard and everything. But he’s a good player. He gets to the line a lot, he throws his body into you which is tough on a defender and he almost brought them back at the end.”
But one of the Big Ten’s budding stars refused to let his team fumble away a conference loss without intervening. With the game tied at 55 apiece, White stole a Ryan Evans rebound from his grasp and turned it around for an easy layup. To make a bad situation worse, he was fouled on the way up and finished the three-point play.
It would prove nearly enough for the Hawkeyes to pull off their fourth consecutive win over the Badgers until an extremely favorable bounce on a sophomore guard Traevon Jackson three became the only thing that prevented such a fate.
White dumped in four more points in the two overtimes to emerge with a stat line – 13 points and five rebounds – similar to his season average of 13.9 points and six boards.
As a team, Iowa would barely beat White’s individual average by shooting 33.8 percent for the game. The Hawkeyes out-rebounded the Badgers 23-16 and earned seven more second-chance points in a first half where the road squad appeared all the more aggressive, their saving grace denying White easy looks inside the paint.
“Fortunately they had some guys that weren’t shooting it real well tonight and I think it’s because of our defense, but I think they played good D too,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said.
Free throw woes tempered
The free throw is the highest percentage shot in basketball, an uncontested shot just 15 feet from the hoop. But since Big Ten play began it has given the Badgers endless trouble, often costing them games as they struggled to sink late-game tries from the charity stripe.
Shooting just 62.2 percent from the free throw line on the year and hitting less than 50 percent of their tries in recent games against Michigan State and Minnesota, it proved to be more than a fluke for UW. The Badgers never even earned a trip to the free throw line in a loss to Ohio State last week.
Bo Ryan’s team managed to build some rhythm by sinking 66.7 percent of their free throw attempts in a road win Sunday over Illinois, yet it remained a lingering area of concern. Against Iowa, the Badgers converted 19-of-26 tries (73.1 percent), including a 13-of-14 performance in extra time that was critical to closing out a resilient Hawkeyes team.
“Before when we were having some struggles at the line, I said sometimes it seemed contagious where one guy missed, other guys started thinking too much, putting some pressure on themselves, then ended up with more misses,” said Berggren, who finished 6-of-8 from the line.
“So it’s just one of those things, you get things rolling a little bit and you realize it’s a free throw, it’s an easy shot, it’s an easy shot in basketball. They should be automatic, and you just take the mental aspect out of it and realize don’t make it harder than it is.”
Two of the most important conversions came from the most unlikely of sources – Evans. While his season average still hovers around 42 percent, he drained two consecutive free throws with four seconds remaining to hand UW a 74-70 lead and make it a two-possession game for Iowa.
“We don’t belabor the point,” Ryan said of the improvement at the line. “But they stepped up. Ryan said he was ready, Ryan said he was fine, he didn’t want to come out and I left him in there. He came through.”