'Wisconsin way' prevails as the Badgers edge out No. 5 Vanderbilt
ALBUQUERQUE -- On game day, the Wisconsin basketball team is bound by ritual.
Five hours before tipoff, the players get a scouting report on their opponent. Four hours before, they eat a snack. Three hours before, they rest. How they feel while eating and resting often depends on what they saw and read during the scouting session.
On Saturday at a little after 11 a.m., the fourth-seeded Badgers were in a small ballroom in their hotel, listening as assistant coach Gary Close delivered the report on fifth-seeded Vanderbilt, the team Wisconsin would face at The Pit later that day with a trip to the Sweet 16 in the balance.
The player listened as Close described the skills of Commodores guard John Jenkins, who led the nation in made three-pointers. They were told about and then showed video of forward Jeffery Taylor, which one Wisconsin player described as "someone who is going to make a lot of money next year in the [NBA]." Combined, those two averaged 36.4 points a game, and they were the backbone of a Vanderbilt team that had seemingly no weakness.
What Close advised his players to do was the same the coaching staff had done in countless games before. There were details specific to Vanderbilt players, such as preventing Jenkins from getting off shots when he planted his right foot first, on which he was "deadly," but the overall message was the same. "As a team we have to not let those two guys beat us," says junior forward Mike Bruesewitz. "We'd defend them as a team."
As a team, Wisconsin won 60-57 on Saturday, advancing to the Sweet 16. The Badgers had five players score in double figures, but not one scored more than 14. Jordan Taylor hit a clutch three-pointer with 1:49 that would prove to be the game winner, but it was no more important that offensive rebounds by Jared Berggren and Josh Gasser in the final minutes, nor more vital than Berggren's block of an inbounds pass on Vanderbilt's final possession.
As a team, they hounded Jenkins and Taylor, and the duo missed all but seven of their 25 shot attempts, going three of 14 from beyond the three-point arc.
"There are just some programs that have a way of doing things," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. "They keep working hard, and then sometimes every once in a while things fall into place."
They fell into place Saturday because of a collective effort. Gasser played 24 minutes, providing some key defense on Jenkins despite being up until all night sick with the flu. "We didn't know if he was going to be able to play. But we know that he didn't have a very pleasant morning after midnight," Ryan said. "He gave us what he had . . .No way in the world Josh Gasser wasn't going to play in that game."
Senior Ryan Evans helped the Badgers get off to a solid start, scoring the team's first seven points and 10 of his 11 in the first half and adding four assists.
Ben Brust made three, three-pointers and finished with 11 points, breaking out of a mini-slump. "He was due," said Evans, "and it was big for us."
Said Ryan: "All of our players are opportunistic. We don't have a guy that we say, OK, the first five shots are going to be taken by this guy. We just don't have that, even when we had some players that are still playing at the next level. You just have to be ready to take what the defense gives you.
"I think our teams have been really good at that. Unselfish guys, understand what we have at Wisconsin, who we are."
Who they are is a program that has made the NCAA tournament every year since Ryan arrived in 2001. Wisconsin had now made five Sweet 16s (2003, 2005, 2008, 20011-12) and one Elite 8 (2005). It is a staggering run, which continues against top-seeded Syracuse in Boston.
Before that game, the Badgers will follow their ritual, and then they will play what Bruesewitz called, "the Wisconsin way."
"We got a lot of guys who just want to win games. We focus on doing all the little things because a lot of little things add up to big things," Bruesewitz said "Everybody on the team I don't think they care what they get for stats. Biggest stat of the game is did we get a win. If we win, we are all happy."