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Men’s basketball: Wisconsin soars to championship game with dominating win over Purdue

first_imgCHICAGO — The Wisconsin men’s basketball team used a dominant second-half effort Saturday in a 71-51 win over Purdue to advance to the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament.The Badgers were led by sophomore guard Bronson Koenig who scored 14 points on 6 of 8 shooting in the second half on his way to a career-high 19 points.Wisconsin was able to get out to a strong start in the first half, hitting its first three shots from the field, as two easy layups and a three from sophomore forward Nigel Hayes helped them jump out to an early 7-2 lead.However, Purdue responded with authority on both ends of the floor. After those two quick layups, Purdue junior forward and Big Ten blocks leader A.J. Hammond held his own in the paint, rejecting senior forward Frank Kaminsky twice at the rim.After starting the game shooting 3-for-3 from the field, Wisconsin missed its next five shots and 11 of its next 13.Purdue took advantage.In stepping up their defensive effort and continuing to get open looks on offense, the Boilermakers were able to go on a 10-0 run, take a four-point lead and maintain that lead for the majority of the first half.“We were kind of letting them get easy post touches and get two feet in the paint too easily, and they’re too big inside, and if you let them do that, they’re going to win,” junior forward Sam Dekker said.Following the final media timeout of the first half and with Purdue up 28-21, the Badgers made one final push. Five straight UW points from sophomore guard Bronson Koenig and a 9-2 Wisconsin run tied the game with just over a minute remaining.It appeared the Badgers would be heading into the locker room with momentum on their side, but a quick 5-0 burst from the Boilermakers gave all the momentum back to Purdue.That, however, ended up not mattering.The second half was a completely different story for both teams. After allowing Hammons and Purdue to have their way offensively in the first half, Wisconsin took their defensive effort to another level in the second half.Hammons looked lost for the entire second half, as Wisconsin switched on screens, played more aggressively down low and limited his opportunities on the block.After recording 10 points, five rebounds in the first half, Hammons shot 0-for-4 in the second half, scoring zero points and grabbing just two rebounds.“We just tried to make it a little tougher for them to get inside, to stay physical,” Dekker said. “In the second half, we talked it out and we were all on the same page, and when we’re all on the same page like that, we become pretty good defensively.”After recording no steals in the first half, the Badgers had five in the second, and it appeared that UW was taking the ball away every time the Boilermakers touched the ball in the post.Wisconsin’s strong defensive effort helped everything else come easier to them in the second half. The Badgers opened the half on a 10-0 run to take a lead that the team never looked back on.“Defense leads to good offense and we finally got some steals, got out in transition and started running on them, which I wish we would do the whole game, but at least we started doing it in the second half,” Koenig said. “That really gave us a spark.”Koenig was the catalyst of the offensive push in the second half. After scoring just five total points in the first 20 minutes, he matched that mark just five minutes into the second period, scoring five of Wisconsin’s first eight points.From there, Koenig kept rolling, hitting four of his next six shots, with a few of them coming in isolated situations at the end of the shot clock. He finished the half with 14 points and a total of 19 for the game.“I was really confident when the shots finally started falling for me,” Koenig said.As a team, Wisconsin shot 57 percent from the field in the second half and finished the game with 18 assists on 26 field goals to go along with just three turnovers.10 of those assists came from Kaminsky and Hayes, who recorded five each, and passing out of the post and double teams has become a real strength for the both of them.“The way Purdue was playing, we had to do some different things,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “Our bigs being able to find people has been one of our keys for a long time.”Kaminsky and Hayes finished with 12 and 15 points respectively, while Sam Dekker scored 15 points to go along with 8 rebounds.With the victory, Wisconsin is just one win shy of their single-season record of 31, and tying that record would not only mean a Big Ten tournament title, but also the very real possibility of the Badgers getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.Despite Wisconsin’s chances of earning a top seed in the tournament, that’s not exactly what is on the mind of Ryan and his team. Their main concern is the next challenge they face.“I never really have talked about seeds ever,” Ryan said. “I stay away from it because I want all my energies to go towards the game tomorrow, and then we find out who we play, and then all our energy is going into, boom, that first opponent. “The next challenge for the Badgers and the final tune-up before the NCAA tournament will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State. Tip-off is set for 2:30 on Sunday at the United Center.last_img read more