No one saw this coming. In fact, it was too easy for Wisconsin. And now, the Badgers are off to their first Elite Eight since 2005 after a resounding 69-52 2in over Baylor.
The Badgers’ game vs. the Bears in the Sweet 16 had many Wisconsin fans worried. Why not? No. 6 Baylor beat Nebraska by 14 and Creighton by 30 in its first two NCAA games. This team was hot, this team was on a roll and this team looked primed to end the Badgers’ season.
Didn’t happen—and it wasn’t … even … close.
This is a connected Wisconsin team. And that connection, that chemistry is manifested in the Badgers’ uncanny ability to pass the ball so well. Honestly, does any team do it better? These guys know each other well, thanks to the fact Wisconsin is one of 10 teams in the nation that has used the same starting lineup in each game.
On this night in Anaheim, Calif., in the West Region, No. 2 Wisconsin showed its patented patience on offense, working the ball around vs. the vaunted Baylor zone that confounded Nebraska in the second round and Creighton in the third round. Each time Baylor looked primed to make a run, Wisconsin had an answer with its patience and its passing, notching 18 total assists. Traevon Jackson led the way the five dishes.
The passing made the Baylor zone a paper tiger, as it was no match for the passing of Wisconsin. The Badgers worked the ball in and out and found open spots in the zone. And often, those opens spots came in the paint. It was all about finding the open man. And that open man usually hit the open shot. At one point, the Bears came out of their zone. But, it was too late, as Wisconsin held a commanding 29-16 halftime lead.
This game was a huge contrast to Wisconsin’s harrowing 85-77 victory over Oregon in the third round, in which the Badgers had to rally from a 12-point halftime deficit.
Now, Wisconsin will play the winner of No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State for the right to get to the Final Four, a place the Badgers haven’t been since Dick Bennett led the program there in 2000.
This march in March by Wisconsin isn’t a shock to me. In fact, I felt the Badgers had the easiest path of any Big Ten team to the Final Four.
Nigel Hayes was a force off the bench for Wisconsin with 10 points and six boards. But this night belonged to Frank Kaminsky, who dominated his much-anticipated matchup with Baylor’s 7-1 Isaiah Austin. Kaminsky hit 8-of-11 shots for a game-high 19 points. He had four rebounds, three assists and blocked six shots. He was flat-out dominant, as the Badgers scorched the nets with 52 percent shooting.
Austin? He finished with 12 points, five boards and two blocks for a Baylor club that shot 31 percent.
Now, the Badgers’ dream continues. The Final Four is in Wisconsin’s sights.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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