USA TODAY Sports
Wisconsin's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal against Michigan looked like it was headed for a 2011 Penn State-esque debacle, but the Badgers shot the lights out in the second half to advance to the semis against Indiana. Traevon Jackson led all scorers with 16 points, and Frank Kaminsky provided a huge boost off the bench.
CHICAGO -- Wisconsin basketball, at times, can be prone to offensive struggles. It plays a slow-paced game and hoists a ton of threes without having any elite three-point shooters (percentage-wise, at least). As such, you will occasionally see 20-minute stretches like the Badgers' first half against Michigan in Friday's Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal. Wisconsin managed a paltry 17 points on 5-of-29 shooting in the first half and looked like it might be en route to a debacle similar to 2011's quarterfinal against Penn State, an infamous 36-33 loss.
But the Badgers' didn't get to fourth place in the Big Ten with an incompetent offense. The bad stretches stick out, but Wisconsin's offense is capable of exploding, too. Explode it did in the second half on Friday, as the Badgers (22-10, 13-6) scored 51 points in the final 20 minutes as they blew by the Wolverines (26-8, 12-7) for a 68-59 victory.
The Badgers hit 17 of their 28 shots in the second half (60.7 percent). They hit six of their nine three-pointers, an incredible 66 percent. Unofficially, Wisconsin scored 1.65 points per possession in the second half, an absurd mark that would have crushed its best single-game total of the season (1.44 in the opener against Southeast Louisiana).
The second-half run started with a number of successful post-up possessions played through Ryan Evans. Evans finished just 4-of-12 from the field, but he scored 12 points and notched a team-high six assists, throwing dump-off passes to Jared Berggren for layups and swing-out passes to Ben Brust (and others) for three-pointers.
"Trae [Jackson] called a couple of plays in the post for both me and Jared," Evans said "We wanted to go inside-out. I started with the bucket, and they had to collapse, then we hit the three-point shooters."
"He was just doing a great job of taking what the defense was giving him," Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Wolverine guard often tasked with defending Evans, said. "He does a great job of landing on two [feet], pivoting through pressure and finding ways to get to the basket. He did a great job of executing it, and he found his own big, and they scored."
As Evans's passes moved outside, it was the starting guards, Jackson and Brust, who provided the most offense. Brust nailed four of seven three-pointers -- just as he did in the squads' first meeting at the Kohl Center -- en route to 14 points. Jackson poured in a hyper-efficient 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting, boosted by 7-of-8 shooting from the free-throw line.
But the Badgers got some of their biggest shots from an unlikely source: backup center Frank Kaminsky. Berggren committed his fourth personal foul with 5:39 to go in the second half and exited the game. Kaminsky, who played just 21.8 percent of Wisconsin's minutes entering the game, played the final 5:39. He scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting. His two-point jumper as the shot clock expired with 2:26 to go extended Wisconsin's lead to 58-54, and the Badgers never looked back.
"There were some really big moments in that game; that was one of them," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "Kaminsky got an angle to drive to the basket, and all of a sudden he was driving by us. That one's going to be striking for a little bit."
"Frank was loose, Frank was into it, he had that look in his eye," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Jared's not used to playing with four [fouls]. Frankie was doing just fine. We believe in our guys, they believe in us, and they believe in each other."
For much of the second half, though, the Badgers were matched step-for-step by Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke and the Wolverines. From 1:17 left in the first half (an 18-12 Michigan lead) through 6:37 in the second half (a 52-45 Badgers lead), the game was played within two possessions. Although Burke struggled in the first half -- just 2-for-7 from the field for four points -- he turned it on the second half. He finished with 19 points and seven assists on the game and orchestrated a late 9-0 run to close the game to 56-54.
Burke's seven assists were a game-high. Tim Hardaway Jr., another selection to the Big Ten first team all-conference squad, added 14 points on sharp 5-of-9 shooting despite suffering an apparent ankle injury in the first half. Michigan got little from its role players, though -- All-Freshman team member Nik Stauskas finished an ugly 1-for-8 from the floor with just four points; he shot a combined 3-for-15 in the clubs' two meetings.
The Badgers' offense just clicked too much in the second half, from start to finish. The team hit 16-of-21 free throws overall (11-of-15 in the second half) and committed just three turnovers in the final 20 minutes, the kind of sharpness necessary to close a game against an offense as dynamic as Michigan's.
Wisconsin advances to the semifinals to face top-seeded Indiana, which knocked off eighth-seed Illinois, 80-64, in the day's first game. The Badgers won their first and only regular season meeting, a thrilling 64-59 upset in Bloomington, Ind. The game is slated to begin Saturday at 12:40 p.m. CT.