INDIANAPOLIS – With all the great basketball teams Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan has guided in his seven seasons in Madison, the Badgers have never accomplished the conference sweep – winning the regular season and conference championship in the same season.
No only was that erased off that list Sunday, but it was eliminated with a game that can easily represent what the 2007-08 Badgers are all about – using a combination of stifling defense and unselfish ball movement.
Led by all-tournament team member Brian Butch’s 12 points and 10 points from tournament most valuable player Marcus Landry, No.8 Wisconsin ended Illinois’ Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament with a convincing 61-48 triumph in Indianapolis.
“This is quite an accomplishment to be the first team in Wisconsin history to win both the regular season and conference championship,” UW coach Bo Ryan said “These guys are pretty proud and hopefully, we have a lot more in it.”
Everything seemed to click for Wisconsin, earning its second tournament championship (ironically, 2004 title also came against the Illini). The Badgers shot 49 percent from the field, took care of the ball (eight turnovers) and got scoring contributions from eight different players.
"All the way through, everybody picked each other up,” Ryan said. “This was a great team effort.”
Wisconsin found itself up seven at halftime in the oddest of fashions. The Badgers scored 15 of their 19 first-half points from the perimeter, receiving five three-pointers from four different players, and did not attempt a free throw.
That trend continued in the second half, as Wisconsin, only 8-for-28 from the perimeter in its first two games, went 9-for-18 from deep and only 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
With the Badgers being consistent from long range, plenty of opportunities open up for Wisconsin in the post. Countless times when either Michael Flowers or Jason Bohannon squared up, an Illinois post player rushed out, opening up Brian Butch (12 points) or Joe Krabbenhoft (eight second-half points) for easy buckets in the paint.
Nobody was more impressive in the first half than Landry. Although scoring eight first-half points, it was Landry’s defense that was the eye opener. On a breakaway for Illinois’ Brian Randle, Landry rejected the junior as he was going in for a dunk attempt.
Less than four minutes, Landry was at it again, shutting down center Shaun Pruitt as he went up for the jump shot, forcing a jump ball.
"We kept battling," Landry said. "We focused on playing defense because defense wins championships."
While Landry was showcasing his defense, Flowers was putting his offense on display. While shutting down Demetri McCamey, the senior nailed two three pointers to help Wisconsin build its seven-point halftime lead.
Wisconsin continued to pile it on offensively in the second half. Spurred by a Landry three-pointer and four straight points from Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin sparked a 10-4 run to put the Badgers comfortable up 39-26. The lead swelled to as big as 20 and the Illini never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
"This team ranks right up there," said Butch. "All we care about is winning and taking it one game and at a time.”