CHICAGO—The phrase March Madness has become a staple of college basketball, and whomever it was that first uttered those magical words would have reveled in the Wisconsin-Iowa semifinal Saturday at the Big Ten Tournament.
But the Badgers waited until the final buzzer sounded to provide the final explanation point as sophomore forward Alando Tucker banked home a 3-point runner as time expired to give UW a 59-56 win in front of a single-session record-setting Big Ten Tournament crowd at the United Center here.
“We practice situations like that all the time to prepare for a situation like this, game situations,” Tucker said. “With [that amount of time] coach always says you have three legitimate dribbles and a chance to shoot it, or two dribbles and a pass, I just wanted to take long strides.”
“After it went in, I called backboard,” Tucker added with a smirk on his face.
Wisconsin (22-7 overall) went up 54-51 on a layup from Mike Wilkinson, who scored four of his nine points in the final two minutes, with 1:18 left to play.
But Iowa (21-11) managed to tie the game up with a minute remaining after hitting three straight free throws. On the ensuing possession, though, Wilkinson answered the call with a jump shot off of a Tucker setup that gave the Badgers a 56-54 lead with 32.3 seconds left.
“Mike made a great catch. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brunner making a double team and all of a sudden I saw Mike fading off so I just wanted to find some way to get the ball to him,” Tucker said.
Iowa called a timeout with 27 seconds remaining and executed a designed play for Adam Haluska who found a wide open 3-point look but missed with six seconds left. Iowa forward Greg Brunner, however, was right under the basket and was able to slip away from the Wisconsin defender and convert a putback with 3.7 seconds left to tie the game at 56-56.
Wisconsin then used a timeout of its own to set up one final shot in regulation, giving the ball to Tucker, who finished with a game-high 20 points. Tucker drove the length of the court and put up a desperation runner as time expired that banked off the glass and fell home to give the Badgers the victory.
“I thought I got it off in time,” Tucker said of the shot. “I just wanted to make sure that when the refs reviewed it that it was good. Then we were able to celebrate after. … We put ourselves in that position though.”
Tucker, who struggled Friday night in UW’s quarterfinal win over Ohio State, played like the All-Big Ten (third team) selection that he is, leading the Badgers on the offensive end. The Lockport, Ill., native finished on 7 of 12 from the floor and added four assists and three rebounds.
Senior forward Zach Morley continued with his string of impressive postseason performances and came off the bench to play 32 minutes and contribute 17 points and six rebounds. Morley had a career-high 23 points Friday night and has provided the Badgers with a significant offensive threat outside of Tucker and senior forward Mike Wilkinson.
“Once again today it was just one of those where guys were able to get me open and I was fortunate enough to knock down some shots,” Morley said. “With Mike in foul trouble we new that we had to pick up our game, everyone needed to pick up each other.”
The Badgers move on to the Big Ten Tournament championship game Sunday at 2:30 p.m. against the regular season champion and top-ranked Illinois. In what is a repeat of last year’s Big Ten Tournament championship game, Wisconsin will have the opportunity to defend last season’s tournament championship and avenge two losses to the Illini earlier this season.
“It’s nice to be playing in a championship game,” UW coach Bo Ryan said. “They know how it works, if you win you get to keep playing.”
The Wisconsin basketball team won a Big Ten Championship in each of Ryan’s first three seasons at UW (regular season twice, tournament championship last year). Sunday the Badgers will have the opportunity to extend that streak to 4-for-4.
Wisconsin bench contributes
The UW bench outscored Iowa’s 23-0 in the Badgers 59-56 victory. A good chunk of that was certainly the 17 points from Morley, but sophomore guard Kam Taylor and freshman guard Michael Flowers also played well off the bench. Taylor finished with five points and two assists and played 29 minutes Saturday. Meanwhile, Flowers continues to provide Ryan with a great defensive replacement that provides a lot of intensity to the Wisconsin squad. The Madison-native did not score Saturday, but he played in more than half of the second half, a testament to Ryan’s confidence in his freshman guard.
Wilkinson continues to struggle
Mike Wilkinson, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, had a rough night for the second straight game. Wilkinson played only eight minutes in the second half due to foul trouble, and just 24 minutes total. He did shoot well from the floor (4 of 7) but struggled to get into the swing of the Wisconsin offense with the limited minutes.
“Any time you are not able to get out on the floor it is frustrating at least if you are a competitor and the great thing was that the guys really picked it up,” Wilkinson said. “They picked it up on defense end and the offensive end. It wasn’t pretty at times, but we just played our heads off.”
“I got to give credit to these guys for hanging in there picking up for the heart and soul of the team, a guy like Mike Wilkinson in foul trouble,” Ryan said.
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