Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz celebrate yet another win over Indiana. - Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Behind arguably Ryan Evans's best game in a Wisconsin uniform, the Badgers shut down Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller and the Indiana Hoosiers to earn their first trip to the Big Ten championship game since 2008.
CHICAGO -- This was Wisconsin Basketball.
The pace was slow. The defense was tough. Every rebound was contested. Contact was abundant. The gritty and gutty narrative was served in spades.
But there was more. The offense flowed. Entry passes were sharp. Forwards worked the post. Guards hit jump shots. Passes led to buckets. It was this slow yet brutally -- beautifully? -- efficient offense, paced by Ryan Evans in the post and Ben Brust on the outside, that eventually sunk Indiana as the Badgers (23-10, 14-6 Big Ten) earned their second defeat of the season (and 12th in 12 tries) against the Hoosiers (27-6, 15-5 Big Ten), 68-56.
"The game wasn't any different here today than any team I've coached," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "You take advantage of what you can. You try to take good opportunities every trip down. You try to limit another team's good opportunities, and it's that constant clash."
"The game never changes. And my guys understand that."
In a game starring Indiana's Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, it was Wisconsin's Evans who owned the floor. He led the Badgers in points (16, a game-high), rebounds (eight), assists (four) and blocks (four, also a game-high) in the most complete game of his career. And as usual, he was on point on the defensive end. Evans was instrumental in shutting down Player of the Year candidate Victor Oladipo. The Indiana forward managed just 10 points on 4-of-12 shooting; three of his 12 attempts were blocked by Evans.
"I was just trying to start off inside, guys finding me," Evans said of his offensive performance. "Trae [Jackson] making sure I get the ball. Then, you know, really feeding off of kicking it out and guys like Mike [Bruesewitz] and Sam [Dekker] coming in and hitting threes."
Indiana got a fantastic game from forward Christian Watford -- 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting -- to keep the Hoosiers in the contest, and Zeller made his presence felt at times, as he scored 13 points and corralled 11 rebounds. But nobody on Indiana's typically hyper-efficient offense was ever allowed to take over, and many of its role players were shut down completely. Sharpshooter Jordan Hulls scored just five points on nine shots from the field; his fellow starting guard Yogi Ferrell scored just six points with three assists but two turnovers.
Overall, the Wisconsin defense held Indiana to an unofficial 0.90 points per possession, the Hoosiers' worst output of the year. It marks just the fourth time the Hoosiers have scored under one point per possession -- including both meetings with the Badgers. But this is nothing new -- Saturday marked the 19th time Wisconsin's defense held a foe under 0.9 points per possession and the seventh time a team has had its worst or second-worst offensive output against the Badgers.
The big story, however, should be the effectiveness of Wisconsin's offense. Despite Indiana's reputation as an offensive juggernaut, it's sported one of the best defensive squads in the nation. Powered by Zeller's size and strength inside and Oladipo's elite athleticism, Indiana ranks 16th nationally with an adjusted 0.88 points per possession allowed, according to KenPom.com.
But Wisconsin's offense was able to score from all over the floor, including 30 points in the paint, 18 off second-chance points and nine off fast breaks. The Badgers nailed seven of 18 three-point attempts (38.9 percent) and shot an impressive 25-of-49 from the field, masking an uncharacteristically poor 24.9 percent turnover rate.
"The biggest story for us is we've been defending the three the last six, seven games at an incredibly high level," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "Today we didn't. And they got some kick-out threes and things of that nature, but we got away from what had been making us better. We started to over-help again, and tried to cover for one another when there was no need to do it."
Despite the defensive lapses, Indiana made a number of runs in the second half. The Hoosiers tied the game at 40 behind a 7-0 run with 14:11 to go in the second half and they closed a Wisconsin lead to 50-49 with a 6-0 run at 9:45 to go in the half. But Wisconsin fought off every run with one of its own.
Dekker, held to just four points in his first three halves at the tournament, blew up for a personal 7-0 run with the score tied at 43. He finished the game with 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, taking over the role of bench hero from Frank Kaminsky.
And then after Indiana pulled within one, the Badgers pulled away for good. The dagger was a three-pointer from Jared Berggren -- his first and only attempt of the day -- to extend the lead to 55-49 with 5:45 to go. Berggren finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 2-for-2 at the line to finish with 11 points. Wisconsin held at least a five-point lead for the final 5:45, as Indiana couldn't summon another run.
"I was looking, just biding my time. Just picking my spots," Berggren said of his three-pointer. "I mean, you know, it was open a couple times, my teammates told me, keep looking for it. Coach told me be aggressive, knock that down. I was just waiting for a good one -- a great shot, not a good shot."
With the win, Wisconsin earns its first entrance into the Big Ten championship since the Badgers won the title in 2008. Wisconsin gets the winner of the second semifinal between second-seeded Ohio State and third-seeded Michigan State. The game will be played at 2:30 p.m. CT, with coverage on CBS.