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Stingy Spartans defense proves too much for Badgers

Even the legendary Rob Wilson struggled to score against the Spartans Saturday.
Even the legendary Rob Wilson struggled to score against the Spartans Saturday.

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the first 10 minutes of Wisconsin's Big Ten Tournament semifinal matchup against Michigan State, the Badgers looked like a team capable of making a deep NCAA tournament run.

After that, they looked like anything but.

With 10 minutes left in the first half, the Badgers had made eight of their first 13 shots and led 20-9. But after a 26-5 Michigan State run to close the half, the Spartans never looked back, eventually winning 65-52.

If there was any one reason for the defeat, it was the stifling brand of Spartans defense the Badgers have come to know all too well. Thanks to some tremendous on-ball and close-out defense from Michigan State, which boasts the nation's 12th-ranked defense, the Badgers went just 9-for-36 from the field during the game's final 30 minutes.

Jordan Taylor had team-high 19 points in the loss, but had a tough time finding open teammates amongst the Spartan defenders, finishing with just two assists.

"They're a good defensive team. They do that to a lot of teams," Taylor said. "They were doing things we weren't and they were doing it the right way."

Besides Taylor and Ryan Evans, who finished with 18 points, Wisconsin didn't have a player finish with more than six points in the loss. Wisconsin's other three starters -- Jared Berggren, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz -- finished a combined 1-of-8 from the field and scored just three points.

As tough as it can be to score against the Spartans, Bo Ryan said his team needs more players to get in the mix offensively for the Badgers to succeed in the NCAA tournament.

"We had some guys that didn't score. We need it from everybody. We need bunches of scoring, and when we get that, we've proven 24 times we can get some things done," Ryan said.

One of the Spartans' most urgent tasks coming into the game was to shut down the red-hot Rob Wilson, who lit up Indiana with 30 points in Wisconsin's second-round victory over the Hoosiers Thursday. Spartans coach Tom Izzo and guard Austin Thornton both said they paid special attention to Wilson to make sure he couldn't get the kind of open looks that doomed Indiana the night before.

"Every time he touched the ball, we wanted somebody's toes on his toes, and that's respect---that's respect for what he did. I thought for the most part we did a lot of that," Izzo said.

Indeed, the Spartans' strategy worked, as Wilson attempted only five shots, making two of them and finishing with six points.

That said, not everything went wrong for Wisconsin Saturday. Taylor got his 19 points in only 14 shots and even though Evans was forced to put up some ill-advised threes with the shot clock expiring, he went a respectable 7-for-15 from the field to earn his 18.

Additionally, the Badgers held their own on the glass against the much bigger Spartans, who are third in the nation in rebounding margin. Despite 16 from the spectacular-as-advertised Draymond Green, the Spartans and Badgers racked up 29 boards apiece and the Badgers actually won the offensive rebounding battle, 10-6.

If you're looking for silver linings, Ryan provided two towards the end of his press conference.

"There were some things in this game we did well, but when you see a score you say 'Eh, you got kicked.' But as coaches, we break it down. We've got some work to do," Ryan said. "Hey, but you get to play again!"

In the end, the Badgers lost to a better team, but selection Sunday is right around the corner.