February 22, 2010

Notes: UW's offense more balanced against NU

MADISON - When Wisconsin waltzed into the locker room with a 43-29 lead on Northwestern during Sunday's game, chances are the Badgers were feeling pretty good about the half they just completed.

And they had about 75 (percent) reasons to think that way.

After hitting 15-of-20 shots in the opening period, including an impressive 5-of-9 tally from downtown, the Badgers had completed their best shooting percentage in any half of the season.

While the 2000 Final Four team was being recognized in front of the Kohl Center faithful, the 2010 Badgers probably thought they had their current game against the Wildcats well in hand.

That's why they play both halves.

Behind 15 second half points from John Shurna, one of the Big Ten's best scorers, Northwestern gave the Badgers a scare that not many saw coming. And it also marked another game, UW's third of its past four, where the team went into a scoring deep freeze and allowed the other team to take advantage of it.

Luckily for the Badgers, they were able to hang onto this one when things started going against them.

"I'd say we were a little disappointed that we didn't push and further the lead," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said. "Anytime you have a 10 point lead you want to push it to 15 and 20 and so on. But Northwestern played very well in the second half. They did some good things defensively and they made some big shots also.

"They got hot at the right time and made a run at the end of the game. Thankfully we had enough to hold on."

Against Northwestern, a team that is desperate to finally qualify for its first appearance in the national tournament, Wisconsin knew it would be in for a tough battle. That can also be said about Wisconsin, a team that has yet to lose back-to-back games this season and is always a tough opponent when at home.

Following a humbling loss to Minnesota last week, Wisconsin knew it had to refocus itself in preparation for Northwestern. One Big Ten loss on the road in a given week is acceptable. Two losses in the same week, with one at home, is tougher to accept.

"When we take a loss we just try to come back and get the next one," UW sophomore Jordan Taylor said. "Coach is always talking about go to what's next so we try not to dwell on the last game. Once you lose one there's really nothing you can do about it. We just try not to compound things and that goes for games as well as mistakes on the court.

"If you make one mistake we try and make up for it the next play."

More balanced attack:

On the surface, Wisconsin still didn't score as many points inside the paint (12) as it probably would have liked. But UW did start to play a bit more balanced in Jon Leuer's second game back after breaking his wrist.

The Badgers shot 20 3-point shots and 19 two-point shots. That nearly 50-50 ratio is something the Badgers haven't even been close to in recent games. In fact, since Leuer was sidelined starting with the first Northwestern game, the Badgers fell in love with the 3-point shot.

On Sunday, the Badgers ran into a tough 1-3-1 zone from Northwestern, particularly in the second half. When the offense was working at its best efficiency in the first half, Wisconsin was attacking gaps and dishing the rock. In the second half, that wasn't quite the case and the offense struggled with it.

UW head coach Bo Ryan was particularly impressed with the way Mike Bruesewitz drove the lane and kicked to an open Taylor for three.

"It's nice to have a guy who can attack a gap when the shooters are being overplayed," Ryan said. "That means there are gaps that open up a little wider. If you don't attack those gaps, even with a guy who is considered a big, then your offense gets a little stagnant.

So the fact that UW was more balanced with a near even split from downtown and inside the arc is encouraging for UW moving forward.

Team notes:

-Wisconsin is the only team in the Big Ten that has not suffered through a consecutive game losing streak this season.

-With its 51.3 percent shooting for the game, UW has topped the 50 percent shooting night for the eighth time this season.

-Since Ryan took over the head coaching job at Wisconsin, UW has won 20 games in seven of his nine seasons. Prior to his arrival, the Badgers only compiled 20 wins in four of its 103 years of existence.

-With a 29-23 advantage in free-throw attempts, the Badgers attempted more foul shots than their opponent for the first time since an 8-6 edge against Penn State on Jan. 24, a span of seven games. UW also shot more free throws than 3-pointers for the first time since losing Jon Leuer to injury.

-Northwestern's 16 rebounds were the fewest by a Wisconsin opponent this season.

Individual notes:

-With his 17-point performance, UW senior guard Jason Bohannon has six consecutive games with 15 or more points. Over that stretch, Bohannon has been the Badgers leading scorer in five of those six games.

-Bohannon appeared in his 129th career game, tying Charlie Wills for fifth on Wisconsin's all-time games-played list.

-Trevon Hughes scored 13 points on Sunday and now stands just one point shy of taking over Wes Matthews (1,251) spot for 14th on the Badgers all-time scoring list.

-Hughes is also just one steal away from taking over Michael Finley's (168) spot for fifth on the Badgers all-time steals list.

Taking a hit:

With a 16-point loss at Minnesota earlier in the week, and a seven-point win over Northwestern on Sunday, Wisconsin split Big Ten games for the second straight week. As a result, UW slipped three spots in both national polls and currently sits at No. 17 in the Associated Press poll and No. 19 in the Coaches poll.

Wisconsin plays at Indiana Thursday night before heading home for the final time to play Iowa next Wednesday.

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