February 21, 2010

Badgers withstand late Northwestern surge

MADISON - If Wisconsin hadn't relished in Jon Leuer's return to this point, it sure is now.

Up three with time winding down against a Northwestern squad desperate to win some games with hopes of making the NCAA tournament, Leuer swatted a Michael Thompson layup attempt to solidify a game the Badgers seemingly had in control.

A few made free throws later and UW collected its 20th win of the season with a 70-63 win over Northwestern.

"The block was just trying to make up for all those free throws I missed," Leuer, who scored 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting with three blocks, but also struggled from the charity stripe, said. "I just felt that I had to make a play. I saw Thompson penetrate and thought that I could get over there quick enough and I did."

The block signaled an end to a furious Northwestern comeback that saw the Wildcats charge back from a 14-point halftime deficit and 12-point deficit midway through the second half.

In fact, the Wildcats' top player John Shurna, who finished with a game high 26 points, 15 coming in the second half, had a chance to tie the game with a eight-foot jumper with just over a minute left.

Instead, the ball clanked off the rim and fell into the hands of Leuer. Wisconsin eventually ran the shot clock down and settled for a 3-point shot from Trevon Hughes with half a minute to play on the next possession.

When that didn't go down, it looked as though Shurna collected a rebound that would have given the Wildcats another shot to tie or potentially take the lead. Instead, he was whistled for a foul on the rebound attempt.

Tim Jarmusz, who struggled for most of the game defending Shurna, hit one of two free throws to push the Badger lead to three with 29 seconds left.

On the ensuing possession, Thompson passed up any chance of a Northwestern tie with his drive to the lane. Leuer rolled over from the weak side and swatted the look.

Jason Bohannon, who led the team with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, corralled the loose ball and knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to five and effectively thwarted any shot for Northwestern to steal a win.

"Down the stretch it is always key to make free throws," Bohannon, who watched his team hit 7-of-11 throws during the final three minutes of the game, and 4-for-4 in the final 10 seconds, said. "Just making free throws down the stretch is crucial always."

Judging by the first half of play, though, thinking Wisconsin would need free throws in the final 10 ticks would have been absurd.

After shooting a miserable 30.5 percent in a loss to Minnesota earlier in the week, Wisconsin rebounded in a big way during the first half of Sunday's game. With a hot hand out of the gates, the Badgers didn't miss a jumper until their seventh shot more than five minutes into the game.

By the end of the opening 20 minutes, Wisconsin had hit 75 percent of its shots from the floor, its highest field-goal percentage in a half this season. In doing so, the Badgers trumped Northwestern's 50 percent shooting effort and opened up a 14-point halftime lead.

As good as the shooting was for the Badgers in the first half, it was equally as difficult in the second half. A lot of that credit can be directed to Northwestern's amped up 1-3-1 defensive pressure which extended the Badgers near mid court and allowed them to hit only 26.3 percent of their shots in the second half.

"If you get tentative against what they do, the shots get a little bit tougher," Ryan, who has coached seven consecutive 20-win teams, said. "We went through quite a stretch there where we just weren't getting shots where we were stepping into our perimeter shots or touching the post enough. Finally down the stretch we did because they were very aggressive.

"That was the best I've seen Northwestern play their half court defense."

Wisconsin, a team that shot 30 3-pointers against Minnesota, only shot 20 in Sunday's win. The Badgers also bounced back from a poor rebounding effort against the Gophers with a 25-16 edge against the Wildcats.

In the end, four Badgers reached double-digit scoring with Bohannon (17), Jordan Taylor (16), Trevon Hughes (13) and Leuer (11). No Northwestern player not named Shurna scored more than eight points.

"Wisconsin is a tough team," Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, who has never beat UW in the Kohl Center, said. "They had a nice lead on us. They were playing extremely well and usually teams make runs and they were able to hold us off."

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