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Jared Berggren knew what was coming and he was ready for it; the 6-foot-11 Wisconsin center was ready for the challenge that Montana's guards, Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, would present by attacking the paint off the dribble.
"There were going to be some situations where I knew that I would have to pick up the ball-handler,'' he said. "The way their bigs can pick and pop, there were some times where we had to switch out and make sure we didn't give them open looks on the outside.
"I knew that I had to do a good job of protecting the rim and moving my feet when I got switched out on the guards. And I was lucky enough to get a few blocks today.''
Lucky? A few blocks? Berggren finished with a career- high seven blocked shots, which set a school record in an NCAA game (Andy Kowske had four blocks against Michigan State in the semifinals of the Final Four in 2000).
That doesn't take into account all the shots that Berggren altered, too.
Only two players in UW history have had more blocks in a single game: Brad Sellers (9 in 1982) and Kim Hughes (8 in 1973). This season, Berggren now has 6o blocked shots; the most by a Badger since Rashard Griffin had 66 in 1994. Sellers has the record with 68 in '83.
Was Berggren aware of how many shots he had blocked against Montana? "Not until after the game,'' he said. "I knew that I had a good number but I didn't realize it was seven until the guys told me (in the locker room).''
Berggren's undeniable presence guarding the rim helped contribute to the offensive struggles of Cherry who had only nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. Cherry had scored in double-figures in 19 straight games; 10 times scoring 20 or more, including a career-high 30.
Wisconsin's senior captain Jordan Taylor had a lot to do with stifling Cherry, who got into early foul trouble. As a result, what was billed as a classic matchup between elite point guards - Taylor and Cherry - turned out to be a complete mismatch in Taylor's favor.
Taylor had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers in 36 minutes. His backcourt partner, Josh Gasser, was also a significant contributor, not only with his 12 points - a nice bounce back after going scoreless against Michigan State - but with his defense.
Gasser held Montana's Kareem Jamar to just six points (3-of-8); only the fourth time in 32 games that he has been held under 10. Jamar had five triples and scored 23 points in the Grizzlies' win over Weber State in the Big Sky championship game.
Gasser limited Jamar to one attempt from beyond the 3-point arc, which he missed.
"I knew that he has been a big part of their offense,'' Gasser said. "Just looking at their last game (against Weber State) he can pull it from 3. If you put a hand down, he'll shoot it and make it. He has been shooting a very high percentage (.445) all year.
"I just tried to limit his touches from the perimeter. Get up in him. Always have a hand up at all times because he's such a good 3-point shooter. At the same time, he can drive, too. It was a full team effort that way.''
Enter Berggren who repeatedly turned away Jamar and Cherry at the rim.
"I heard that he had seven blocks - seemed like 10,'' Gasser said. "Coming off those ball screens, Jared was sticking with the guards when they were trying to take him one-on-one. He did a real good job of eliminating them that way by getting a piece off the ball.''
Gasser felt Berggren's defense was one of the keys to the victory. Another key was how the Badgers shot the ball effectively against Montana's zone defense. The message was clear: the Griz were challenging Wisconsin to make shots; an understandable strategy.
"They played the match-up zone and kind of sagged off and hoped that we would miss a few shots,'' Gasser said. "We just wanted to get good looks, and I think we did. Ryan (Evans) got us started and we all followed him.''
Finding the soft spot in the zone, Evans had 14 of his 18 points in the first half.
"We were patient moving the ball around the perimeter,'' Gasser said. "Ryan was kind of floating on the baseline and just waiting for things to happen. When he got the ball, he was aggressive and confident.''
Vanderbilt will pose a far greater challenge on Saturday to the Badgers who need to stay aggressive and confident as a team. Physically and athletically, the Commodores compare favorably with Big Ten opponents like Michigan State and Ohio State.
Whereas Montana was undersized and overmatched that certainly won't be the case with Vandy which has proven that it can play with anyone in the nation including a heavyweight like Kentucky; a 71-64 loser to the Commodores in the SEC title game.
John Jenkins, a silky-smooth 6-4 junior guard, was the leading scorer in the conference with a 20-point average. Jenkins is particularly deadly from beyond the arc. Coming into the NCAA tournament, he had 129 triples, 75 more than Jordan Taylor.
Vanderbilt also has a Taylor - Jeffrey Taylor, who's originally from Norrkoping, Sweden, was named to the All-SEC first team, along with Jenkins. Taylor, who averages 16 points, played his high school basketball in New Mexico and won a state title at The Pit.
Throughout the season, Berggren has been matched against some talented "bigs '' in the Big Ten: Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, Indiana's Cody Zeller and Illinois' Meyers Leonard. He's more than held his own, too.
Saturday, Berggren will draw Vandy's 6-11, 250-pound senior center, Festus Ezeli, a native of Nigeria. Ezeli missed the first eight games of the season, while recovering from sprained ligaments in his knee. The Commodores are 15-6 with Ezeli in the starting lineup.
Last Sunday, Ezeli had 17 points, six rebounds and four dunks against Kentucky's freshman phenom Anthony Davis, who's likely to be the Player of the Year in college basketball. Davis had dominated Ezeli in the two previous meetings.
His teammates call him Fes. His full name is Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndelue. By any name, it's March and anything can happen in these matchups. Berggren will have to be ready again.
Ever hear about Jon Bryant?
"Never,'' Rob Wilson said. "Never heard of him. Who was that?''
Jon Bryant? Who was that?
"I know the name,'' said Josh Gasser. "Jon Bryant? Is he a coach?''
Not a coach, a player. Ever hear of him?
"Maybe,'' Ben Brust said. "Maybe if you tell me more about him.''
"Played here at New Mexico?'' Brust asked.
Played at Wisconsin. But, yes, he did play here - at The Pit - in Albuquerque.
Seriously, doesn't anyone remember Jon Bryant?
"Yeah, of course,'' said Jordan Taylor.
Leave it to the senior captain.
Taylor, like Bryant, hails from the state of Minnesota.
"I worked out once with Jon Bryant when I was younger,'' Taylor said. "Some of my friends worked out with him a lot. To be honest, I don't know much about his history here.
"I know him more as a trainer in Minnesota.''
That would be the post-UW Jon Bryant, the founder of Triple Threat Elite Training.
"Jon Bryant,'' said video coordinator Sharif Chambliss, "was a great shooter for the Badgers. He was able to stretch the defense and knock down shots when they needed it.''
Never more so than during Wisconsin's 2000 run to the Final Four which culminated with wins over LSU and Purdue in the West Regional semifinals and finals at The Pit.
Bryant caught fire in the tournament starting with the Badgers' opening game when he went 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 66-56 victory over Fresno State.
Bryant still shares the school record for most triples in a game with a host of others, including Taylor (vs. Indiana last year), Brust (vs. BYU and UNLV) and Wilson (vs. Indiana).
The Bryant flashback and history lesson is relevant to this team from the standpoint that the Badgers have multiple players capable of exploding offensively with 3-point hits.
You can add Gasser to the list. Twice, he's had four triples in a game.
UW assistant coach Lamont Paris admitted that he was unaware of Jon Bryant's legacy though he had heard of the name. But he knows the impact that a shooter can have.
"It happens all the time in March,'' Paris said. "It's about who's playing well and who's shooting the ball well. Look at VCU last year in the tournament.''
Virginia Commonwealth made its Final Four run on the strength of its 3-pointers. "That's what it came down to,'' Paris said. "They shot an astronomical percentage.''
In retrospect, did Wilson sneak up on the Hoosiers? Or can he do it again? Michigan State was obviously aware of his presence and threat and limited touches and good looks.
So how does he get space?
"Rob is a good athlete,'' Paris said. "He comes off screens hard and he has pretty good size for a guard so he has the ability to create some space for himself that way.
"Performances like that - the Indiana game - are what this time of the year is all about. Get a guy hot like that and you can ride him into a deep run in the tournament.''
That's why defenses are geared to stop guys like that. Consider: Wilson took only five shots and made two against the Spartans last Saturday in the Big Ten tournament.
"A couple of times they were face-guarding, Indiana didn't do that,'' Wilson said. "Michigan State is a great defensive team and they came in with a great game plan.
"They were switching a lot on the screens and bumping me as I was running off of screens. I just have to read what they give me and what my teammates are doing.
"I have to make better reads and cuts to continue to get open. I have to take advantage of the opportunities that I do get.
"I'm still hoping to be a big factor and contributor off the bench here (against Montana). I have to play great defense and hopefully knock down a couple of shots.''
A couple of shots? What did it feel like to knock down seven against Indiana?
"It felt like the hoop was a lot bigger than it normally is,'' Wilson said.
Brust knows that feeling. Early in the season, he went 7-of-7 from beyond the arc against UNLV and 7-of-10 against BYU. Both teams are in the NCAA tournament.
Lately, though, Brust's playing time has dwindled. Despite accounting for only seven points in the last five games combined, he has remained upbeat.
"You just have to be ready at all times,'' Brust said. "If coach calls your name, and if the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it.''
Getting away from Big Ten defenses could help Brust.
"Maybe; maybe for everyone else on the floor, too,'' he said. "I think we're all excited to play against some new faces that we haven't seen before.''
March is the perfect setting for a breakout game for somebody.
"Anything can happen,'' Chambliss said. "That's why we're here.''
The last time the Badgers were here - at The Pit - Gasser was eight years old.
So you can understand why he would have no specific recollection of Jon Bryant.
"I do remember that (2000) team as a whole,'' Gasser said. "You don't really remember a lot of the individual players; that's why they were so good.
"You just remember how well that team played together. Obviously, there's some good karma in this arena, and hopefully we can continue it.''
After all, Bo Ryan emphasized, this is not about Jon Bryant and 2000.
"But this is our guys' time,'' Ryan said Wednesday. "Those 15 players that will be out there in red and white, this is their time ... this is their moment.''
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --
Back by popular demand, in honor of the 2012 NCAA Tournament's 68 teams, @BadgerMBB
will be sending out 68 Tweets with observations and commentary leading
up to Thursday's NCAA tournament game between No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 13 Montana.
Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson are in Albuquerque with the team, and you can follow along here
to get the updates in real-time.
This page will serve as an archive of all the tweets and will be updated often.
68. Sunrise on the Tarmac, next stop, Albuquerque: http://say.ly/eWE1zlN
67. First mini-crisis... Finding a puzzles page from the newspaper for Bo Ryan. Crisis averted when Barry Alvarez offered his. Whew
66. Bigger deal for Rob Wilson? 30 pts vs IND or being named 1 of Cosmo's hottest guy of March Madness? http://say.ly/SCj1zs0
65. What could possibly grab these guys attention to this extreme? Two words: Mario Kart http://say.ly/xkF1zsq
64. Small world. 1 of Bo Ryan's old HS buddies lives in ABQ & got UW in best gym in town not named The Pit for practice (Sandia).
63. Mike Bruesewitz buries a 3 from right wing during practice... Eerily similar to the dagger vs. K-State. Oh how I love March.
62. After Wilson's 30 game, author @DavidMaraniss
sent Bo Ryan a text-Said he likes watching UW players develop @ different times
61. 1st impressions after seeing The Pit: feels a bit like Iowa's Carver, bet this building gets LOUD, is it Thursday yet? http://say.ly/FLU1zzb
60. Sitting in on meeting with CBS. Announcers for Thursday are Spero Dedes, Bob Wenzel and Jaime Maggio
59. #Badgers lose communications meeting. Montana staff shows up in suits, UW in polos.
58. National media here with #Badgers in ABQ: @ESPNAndyKatz
57. Will Cherry, Big Sky Defensive POY, expects to guard #Badgers Jordan Taylor, calls his assist-to-TO ratio "out of this world"
56. #Grizzlies Coach Wayne Tinkle jokingly says Freddie Owens has all the pressure on him "he's supposed to know everything"
55. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle on his 7-foot center Derek Selvig playing QB in high school. "It wasn't pretty.
54. Ryan Evans: "Freddie Owens knows our stuff, but we've always got new stuff. So we'll see what happens."
53. #Badgers @DanFahey10 with a microphone. Check back for video http://twitpic.com/8wauia
52. Sioux Falls news station here asking Bo Ryan about @GregStiemsma
. South Dakota Legends
legend Bob Ryan here covering Harvard, but he was excited to meet "Uncle Bo" as he calls him.
50. Bo Ryan was at The Pit in '83 for Valvano's miracle run. Said he was sitting in the stands with his Dad cheering for NC State
49. Bo Ryan said he wasn't at The Pit in 2000, but he said - while blowing his nose - they had to deal with the same allergies.
48. Asked about @FreddieOwens
, Ryan asked, "have u ever been with him when he picked up a tab? No? Ok, well that hasn't changed."
47. #Badgers open practice at @TheLoboPit http://twitpic.com/8wb9kq
nails the half-court shot giving the smalls the win over the bigs
45. Found out that our PA announcer for tomorrow is the same from when the #Badgers were last here in 2000 #justsayin
44. Check out the menu at @TheLoboPit
, that's gotta be a good omen right? (thanks @TheBrianEvenson
43. So how do the #Badgers celebrate a day of two-a-day practices? Mandatory study table of course
42. During NCAA pre-tournament meeting, clock topic came up and Bo Ryan was quick to get clarification. Clock, light, horn?
41. #Badgers pep rally taking place now, complete with Barb Puls, wife of the famous Otto Puls, doing the polka
40. This! #Otto http://say.ly/umc1zUt
39. UW alumni rep here in ABQ is Kelly Ryan & she's talking to Bo Ryan's wife, Kelly Ryan, here @ Kelly's Pub. Can't make this up
38. When talking about The Pit adding Suites above concourse, Bo Ryan quipped "Gives new meaning to raising the roof." #Rimshot
37. Entire bar, Badger Band and Cheer squad serenades #Badgers cheerleading coach Josette Scheer for her ??th birthday.
36. This week's Varsity Magazine is all about the #Badgers and March Madness. Check it out. http://ow.ly/9Fmxd
35. He desperately wants to be the #Badgers latest walk-on darling. Now @DanFahey10
gets his chance. http://ow.ly/9FmDv
34. As of Friday, March 9 Rob Wilson wasn't on Twitter. Now 5 days later @RCWilson33
has 1,143 followers.
33. #Badgers parents at the team hotel so far: Jordan Taylor's Dad, Ben Brust's Dad & the Gassers.
32. #Badgers die-hard Andy North and UW video coord. Sharif Chambliss snuck out to hit some balls after practice. #Fieldof18?
31. Utah St. AD Scott Barnes (NCAA committee member) said he held Karl Malone to 32 in NCAAs, Ryan ribbed, "points or rebounds?"
30. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle(WI native): "We try to mirror [the #Badgers] at a smaller level. I respect the way they do things"
29. #Badgers not the only team at this hotel. The #Colorado fight song just broke out in the lobby
28. Gametime is 12:10 here in ABQ, that means early morning (7:10) scouting report at the hotel.
27. Greg Gard is giving the low down on Montana right now. Gard is 9-1 in NCAA opening games when he has the scouting report.
26. Gard's scout report: Cherry is a big Lewis Jackson w/ 3-pt shot, Jamar is like Brandon Paul & Selvig is a Leuer/Shurna combo
25. There's something beautiful about that blue patch on the Cardinal & White http://say.ly/ghq1A2H
24. Ankle-taping time with Grand Master Trainer Henry Perez-Guerra. He tapes 10 of the 15 #Badgers in his hotel room.
23. Can't get this song out of my head. Only seems right. http://ow.ly/9FY3k
22. Montana has shot below 45% in all 6 of their losses. Only 7 of #Badgers 33 opponents have hit the 45% mark. #Defense
21. #Badgers send-off at the hotel is about to lift off. Band, cheerleaders, Bucky and of course... goosebumps
20. The goods #Fieldof68 http://say.ly/uQd1A57
19. Best fan sign I've seen so far: "Once a Badger, Always a Badger. That goes for you too Freddie"
18. Led by police escort, #Badgers team bus is off to The Pit
17. Ryan Evans' pregame song in the locker room? Michael Jackson's "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"
16. The doors are open and the #Badgers and #Grizzlies are on the floor warming up http://twitpic.com/8wonz5
15. Mission control in the CBS/Turner truck. Looks like could launch a spaceship outta here. http://say.ly/Knh1A6Y
14. For the 14th straight year, On Wisconsin is played at the NCAA Tournament
13. National radio announcers: Dave Sims (voice of the Seattle Mariners) and 15-year NBA vet Michael Cage
12. Your officials for today: Anthony Jordan, Jeffery Clark, Bret Smith
11. #Badgers starters are the same ones that we've seen all season: Taylor, Gasser, Evans, Bruesewitz and Berggren
10. #Grizzlies starters are G Will Cherry, G/F Kareem Jamar, F Art Steward, F Mathias Ward, C/F Derek Selvig
9. @TheLoboPit might have the longest tunnel in college basketball. They need to install a toe rope. #Fieldof68 http://say.ly/kSP1A7t
8. National anthem time, performed by the #Badgers band
7. The man, the myth, the rival... @FreddieOwens visits with Greg Gard pregame. http://say.ly/iKi1A7M
6. About 10 minutes from tip-off. Here's an exclusive peek into the #Badgers locker room #ChalkTalk http://say.ly/tlT1A7O
5. One of the best seats in the house #Fieldof68 http://twitpic.com/8wp99u
4. Bo Ryan is wearing a tan suit with corral and red striped-tie. #Badgers are 7-0 when he wears that combo. JK, I have no idea.
3. Disorganization... #Badgers are introduced out of order. Taylor ran when Evans was called, Gasser when Taylor called.
2. Sure seems like there are more (and louder) #Badgers fans here than #Griz. Wisconsin is 1-0 then already.
1. The Game Day blog is LIVE!!!!!!! http://ow.ly/9Ggom
It is probably fair to say the Badgers' performance in last week's Big Ten tournament did little to help or hurt its seeding for the NCAA tournament. Perhaps there have been exceptions, but as far as Wisconsin is concerned, in most years that seems to be the case.
Still, there was plenty of exciting basketball in Indianapolis. OK, the semifinal games will not be instant classics, but Thursday, Friday and Sunday provided good theater.
For Badgers fans, Friday's quarterfinal victory against Indiana was special. In recent weeks, fans have been watching Rob Wilson get more and more playing time. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean told his players that, since the first meeting between the two teams in late January, Wilson was the Badgers' most improved player.
Yet I doubt anyone in the building figured Wilson would explode for 30 points and make "Rob Wilson" a trending topic on Twitter.
As enjoyable as it was in the moment, what stood out to me was how happy his teammates and coaches were for him. While watching the highlights, I noticed the players on the bench jumping up and down. Of course they were happy for the team, but as Bo Ryan has said, everybody likes Wilson, so that made the day even more fun.
After the game, associate head coach Greg Gard told us on the radio broadcast, "I haven't seen that since I recruited him at Garfield Heights." A few seconds later, Gard, for the second time in as many weeks, started to get emotional when talking about his senior from Cleveland, Ohio.
"I could not be happier for him," he said before his eyes started to water. Gard needed a few seconds to gather himself. "What he's had to go through, and what he's had to work towards. Umm (another pause). Glad to see him do this at this time."
The same can be said of Ryan, who on Friday won his 266th game as the Badgers' boss, a school record. He, too, was thrilled for Wilson. "And what is so special about it is because the way Rob has been since Day One. A great young man, a fine young man that works hard."
The head coach has said that some players need more time than others to develop. Ryan said a friend of his sent a text message offering a similar observation.
"He mentioned how he has seen that happen in some research he has done about people. He knows about people, and he realizes, too, that people have certain times where the focus is a little better, and nobody has that timetable that they can tell you ahead of time."
The text was from David Maraniss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. His work includes books on Roberto Clemente and Vince Lombardi, among many others.
As for the record, "All the memories to me always go to the players and the teams and things that they did," said Ryan. "I just feel really good for all the people involved in the program."
Then the ultra-competitive head coach showed his human side, too. "There is so much that goes into it that I'm so thankful for, from my family. And the fact that my..." Ryan needed three or four seconds to regain his composure before finishing the sentence. "My parents are still with me and had a chance to watch a lot of these games, and a lot of those teams that we've had."
I still think of Ryan's first season, when the Badgers upset seventh-ranked Illinois, 72-66. Among those who came out on the floor was Bo's father, Butch, pumping his fist as he joined the team in celebrating a memorable victory. No doubt Butch and Louise are very proud.
This week it is all about the NCAA tournament, as the Badgers face Montana and an old friend in Grizzlies assistant coach and former UW player Freddie Owens. With Bo it is always about "next." But as we head into what many call the greatest three weeks in sports, I just hope Badgers fans can cherish what took place last Friday in Indianapolis.
In the big picture of tournament seeding, it probably meant nothing. But sometimes sports can offer us a chance to witness something more important. Such as a player who has persevered, and a coach who just set a record, yet was thinking of everyone but himself.
Then again, maybe that is the essence of Wisconsin basketball.
Freddie Owens has transitioned from climbing hills at Wisconsin under coach Bo Ryan to "climbing mountains'' at Montana under coach Wayne Tinkle, a Milwaukee native, just like Owens. The 30-year-old Owens, of course, is the starting point for any scouting report on the Griz.
"Freddie texts me and I text him now and then; we stay in touch,'' said Ryan who was fully expecting to hear from Owens later Sunday night after the No. 4 seed Badgers drew No. 13 seed Montana in the NCAA Tournament. Owens is completing his third season on Tinkle's staff.
"In my workout room at the house,'' Ryan went on, "there's a big picture of Freddie on the wall - the picture of him running down the court after he realizes that his shot went in against Tulsa. I have to look at Freddie every day when I go down there and work out.''
Laughing, he added, "I might turn it (the picture) around this week.''
Truth is, whenever Ryan thinks about Owens making that memorable 3-point shot that capped a furious rally from a 13-point deficit with four minutes left and advanced the Badgers to the Sweet 16 in the 2003 tournament, he says, "It puts a smile on my face.''
Ryan had a premonition that Wisconsin might draw Montana. "When they won (the Big Sky tournament), I said, 'That's a team we could play,''' he recounted. "To be real honest, I probably said that about some other teams, too. But there's no question I thought that was a possibility.''
Owens had the same premonition.
"I said if we can somehow crack the 13 seed, I told my wife we're going to end up playing Wisconsin, just watch,'' Owens told the Missoulian, the local newspaper in Missoula, the site of the University of Montana campus. Missoula is a little less than 200 miles from Spokane, Wash.
"I'm excited personally and the guys are excited,'' continued Owens, a product of Milwaukee Washington High School. "It's going to be a weird feeling being across the bench from coach Ryan and some of the other guys on the coaching staff.
"This is March and crazy things happen. I think it's a great opportunity for us to go out and show that we can play against a really good program and hopefully come out with a win.''
Nobody has a longer active winning streak in college basketball than the Grizzlies, who have won 14 straight games and 20 of their last 21. The last time they lost was Jan. 14 at Weber State; a setback which they have avenged twice since then.
Montana upended Weber State, 66-51, in the final game of the regular season (Feb. 28) and then won the rubber match in the title game of the Big Sky tournament (March 7). It wasn't even close, either. The Griz wound up scoring 54 points in the second half alone during an 85-66 rout.
All five starters scored in double-figures - Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward had 23 each. To say the least, this is not a deep Montana team. Tinkle subbed only twice against Weber State. Shawn Stockton played six minutes and Keron DeShields played three. Neither played in the second half.
The Grizzlies are led in scoring by Will Cherry, a 6-foot-1, 177-pound junior guard from Oakland, Calif. Besides averaging 16 points, Cherry is the school's career leader in steals with 221. He's also a lockdown defender; the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
Cherry shares the backcourt with Jamar, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore from Los Angeles, who averaged 14 points. Both are 3-point threats. Jamar went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc against Weber State in the Big Sky finals, and has 49 triples on the season, one fewer than Cherry.
The Griz are anchored on the frontline by Derek Selvig, a 7-foot, 230-pound senior and the only player from Montana (Glendive) on the roster. The starting forwards are Ward, a 6-7, 236-pound junior from Gig Harbor, Wash., and Art Steward, a 6-4, 210-pound senior from Casper, Wyo.
The Grizzlies are no strangers to the Big Dance. This will be their second trip in three seasons. In 2010, they lost, 62-57, to New Mexico (coached by Steve Alford) in the East Regional. Montana, then a No. 14, seed, played in San Jose, Calif.
Tinkle, whose teams have won 20 or more games in each of the last three seasons, was also exposed to the NCAA Tournament as a Montana assistant under Don Holst once and Larry Krystkowiak twice. Krystokowiak is a Missoula native, a Griz alum and a former Milwaukee Bucks player and coach.
The 46-year-old Tinkle is also a Griz alum; and the sixth-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder in school history. His wife Lisa starred for the Lady Griz, while their daughter Joslyn has started 20 games for the Stanford women's basketball team.
During the course of this season, the Grizzlies have adopted "Ain't no Mountain High Enough'' as a theme song. They've sung the lyrics during bus rides and following road wins. Climbing a mountain would be in Owens' wheel-house since he climbed his share of hills at Elver Park during his UW career.
That's part of the big picture this week.
Ryan Evans was still trying to digest the win over Indiana here Friday in the Big Ten tournament when he was prodded to look ahead to Michigan State, a rival that swept the regular season series against the Badgers for the first time under Bo Ryan.
"Aw, man, I'm just trying to sit back and enjoy this one," Evans kiddingly protested while unwinding in front of his locker. "But it's the same old, same old (with the Spartans). You've got to guard Draymond Green; he's going to be the focal point.
(Green had 18 and 20 points against Wisconsin earlier this season.)
"But they've got a lot of other guys that are able to do stuff. We watched them a little bit today (in Michigan State's 92-75 win over Iowa). A lot of guys were knocking down shots fluently within their offense.
"They're like us - they've got a lot of players that you've got to stop."
The Spartans had four players in double-figures against Iowa: Green, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood. Two others had nine apiece: Derrick Nix and Travis Trice. Michigan State dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Hawkeyes by a 36-24 margin.
"I think we actually outrebounded them (33-30) at their house," Evans noted of the Feb. 16 game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. "But it's going to be tough to be able to do that again. We just have to be ready to get pushed around some."
And they need to push back, too, Evans implied. They also need to get back - on defense. Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 15-0 in transition points; most of the damage coming during a 14-0 run in the first half. The Badgers never recovered in the 69-55 loss.
"We know what they're capable of, and we know what they're going to try to do to us," said UW center Jared Berggren. "They took it to us twice this year and we know where we have to improve on, and where we need to do a better job.
"If we get contributions from different guys like we did (against Indiana) and balanced scoring - Rob (Wilson) getting hot like that again definitely wouldn't hurt either."
Wilson was the buzz of the tournament after scoring 30 against the Hoosiers. Had he done this next week in the first round of the Big Dance, which has no equal in terms of national exposure and pub, he would have been booking an appearance on The Late Show with Dave Letterman.
Will Wilson feel any better, he was asked Friday, knowing that Michigan State will likely be talking about him when the Spartans go through their walk-through in advance of facing the Badgers?
"No, I don't want them to put that much thought into me," he said.
Pausing, he then completed his thought by saying, "I hope that I can continue to be open - I just have to keep moving so that my teammates can find me like they did today. My mentality is to keep shooting, especially when you're hot, just keep shooting."
Wilson played 16 minutes and scored five points against the Spartans at the Breslin Center. In the 63-60 overtime loss to Michigan State at the Kohl Center, he took only two shots and missed them both during his 12 minutes of playing time.
A key will be what the Badgers can get out of Jordan Taylor, who had 28 in Madison but only 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting in East Lansing. When push comes to shove, as Evans intimated, they're going to have to make a push to get Taylor more involved.
Especially since the Spartans will be on the look-out for Wilson.
In yet another example of how competitive the Big Ten Conference has been this basketball season, Senior Day/Night was unkind to most. In the home finales, the home teams won four and lost eight. Among those losing their final home games were the three teams that ended up sharing the conference championship.
Hats off to the Badgers for being one of the four squads to hold serve, something they have done every year under head coach Bo Ryan. On Sunday, the 11th-year head coach also tied Hall of Famer Bud Foster with win No. 265 at Wisconsin. It was fun to witness the long and well-deserved ovation the fans at the Kohl Center gave him. It was obvious Ryan was touched by the response.
Speaking of well deserved, congratulations to Badgers guard Jordan Taylor for being named first-team All-Big Ten by the league's coaches. Honorable mention recognition goes to Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans, while Josh Gasser earned a spot on the All-Defensive Team. Also, senior Rob Wilson, who continues to play well, is Wisconsin's honoree for the Sportsmanship Award.
For better or for worse, I have been among the media voters for several years. It is rarely easy, and this year was one of the more difficult. I can't tell you how many times I moved a player from first team to second, then back again.
The easy calls were Draymond Green and Jared Sullinger, with Green my pick for player of the year. Then the decisions started to get a little more difficult. For the remaining three spots, you probably could make compelling arguments for seven or eight players. I chose to go with three players who have as much on their plate as anyone in the Big Ten -- Tim Frazier of Penn State, John Shurna of Northwestern and Taylor.
Shurna led the Big Ten in scoring, and while he certainly gets support from teammates such as Drew Crawford, Shurna is the one who generally seems to get the bulk of the attention from opposing teams.
Frazier plays for the last-place and worst-shooting team in the conference. Yet he finished second in scoring and led the league in assists. I repeat, he led the Big Ten in assists playing for the worst-shooting team in the conference. In addition, Frazier's ability to penetrate and hit that little tear drop over players nearly a foot taller is something to see.
Finally, I went with Taylor for how he has handled being the player wearing the bullseye all season.
Without Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, Taylor is the man opponents target from tipoff to final buzzer. Coming off ball screens, he gets doubled. He gets bumped. He gets knocked to the floor. He then gets up and comes after you again.
Taylor probably could have taken 20 shots a game, and therefore would have averaged more than the 16.3 points per game he put up in Big Ten play. Instead, he elected to make every effort to get his teammates involved. Yet when needed, Taylor would put the team on his shoulders. And in crunch time, far more often than not, he delivered.
If I am putting together a Big Ten All-Star team, Jordan Taylor is going to be on it. Period. Case closed. End of story.
Having made my case, I have to admit it was extremely difficult, and to a point I felt foolish putting Purdue's Robbie Hummel and Michigan's Trey Burke on the second team. Hummel made the first team with both the coaches and the media, and how can you not feel good about his comeback from two major knee injuries? Talk about a player with a lot on his plate.
Burke has been tremendous for the Wolverines, and it is scary to think he is just a freshman. The same can be said of Indiana big man Cody Zeller.
My point here is the Big Ten is full of very good players and very good teams. Coaches, including Bo Ryan, have said this is the deepest the conference has been in a long time. Maybe the deepest it has ever been.
It has made for an enjoyable regular season. It figures to make for a hotly contested and highly entertaining Big Ten tournament. You might want to tune in. There is going to be one heck of a collection of college basketball teams gathering in Indianapolis this week.
On an abbreviated Christmas break, a few days off from practice, Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz and Jordan Taylor returned home to Minnesota: Bruesewitz to St. Paul and Taylor to Bloomington. So what constitutes a little R & R for Big Ten basketball players?
Bruesewitz and Taylor showed up at high school basketball game in St. Louis Park; not just any game, mind-you, but a showdown featuring Benilde-St. Margaret's, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A and Taylor's alma mater.
Bruesewitz sat with his former Sibley prep coach, Tom Dasovich, now at Minnetonka. At one point, Dasovich turned to Bruesewitz and observed, "Jordan is probably going to run for governor or president or some elected official's office because that's just his personality.''
Taylor meshed so well with everyone in this setting that it was like he had never left the student body, Bruesewitz recounted. Dasovitch, in fact, suggested that there are very few collegiate All-Americans that you could throw into a high school gym, and they'd handle themselves as well as Taylor.
"I really hadn't thought about it that way,'' Bruesewitz conceded. "When I look at Jordan, I really don't see an All-American; he works extremely hard and doesn't let that stuff to go this head. Now when I'm playing basketball with him, it's different: I obviously see that he's a great player.''
Taylor's impact can't be measured by mere statistics, though you can build an argument for his status among the elite point guards based solely on his assist-to-turnover ratio. "He's also probably the best team leader that I've ever been around,'' Bruesewitz said. "It's going to be weird to see him go.''
That admission was tough for Bruesewitz to swallow. Reflecting on Sunday's farewell appearance at the Kohl Center for Wisconsin's two seniors -- Taylor and Rob Wilson -- Bruesewitz said, "Each Senior Day gets harder and harder the longer that you're in the program.''
As a freshman, Bruesewitz spent just one year in the company of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes but "they became friends and great teammates.'' As a sophomore, it was a little more difficult for Bruesewitz, who got to spend two years around Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz.
Bruesewitz had known Leuer, another Minnesota native, since his sophomore year in high school. Nankivil sat next to Bruesewitz in the Kohl Center locker room and "I got to know him really well,'' along with Jarmusz. "I considered them all to be really good friends,'' Bruesewitz said.
His friendship with Taylor and Wilson extends to three years and beyond (with Taylor). That's what is making this particular Senior Day so much more emotional for Bruesewitz. "It's just kind of sad, but I'm also happy at the same time because I got to experience a lot of things with these guys,'' he said.
Pondering how each graduating class has marked a passage in time, Bruesewitz said, "This year, it's three years with those guys (Taylor and Wilson) and then all of a sudden it's your turn next year.
"You have no idea how fast it goes until you're going through it and experience it.''
For context, his own special brand of context, Bruesewitz said, "Just last year I was wearing a big, poufy afro, and a year later, I'm on my third Senior Day.''
Just three years ago, Bruesewitz was on the scout team with Wilson, a Cleveland native. "We went through a lot of the same stuff together,'' said Bruesewitz, a junior. "Rob was kind of my guy; I'd stick around him a lot my freshman year. I'm going to miss him a lot.''
Although Wilson may not be as outgoing as Bruesewitz, the latter insisted, "He's quiet, but sometimes you can't get him to shut up. Rob has gotten a lot more vocal over the last three years. He's just a regular 'Joe' in the locker room. He'll start arguing with the rest of us.''
About the Indians? About the Browns? About the Cavaliers?
"Naaw, Cleveland is irrelevant in the sporting world,'' Bruesewitz teased.
There were likely times when Wilson felt that way, himself.
"There were times when he didn't play very much and I could kind of see on his face that he was down,'' Bruesewitz said. "I just tried to keep telling him, 'Keep working because there will be a time when the team is going to need you and you're going to need to step up.'
"I didn't know if he was always listening, but he didn't pack it in and he kept working hard. The last three games, Rob has been playing extremely well. We don't beat Ohio State without Rob, who knocked down those three big three (pointers) and played good defense.
"After the game, I gave him a big hug because he has worked his butt off.''
Bruesewitz has been attempting to heed some of his own advice -- "Get in the gym, keep working, keep getting shots up'' -- during a personally frustrating offensive slump. Since scoring 11 points against Ohio State in Madison on Feb. 4, he has scored 21 in the last six games combined.
"It feels like I haven't made a shot in about a month,'' he said. "But you just have to keep playing through this stuff - you have to keep thinking the next shot is going down, because it is. You have to keep getting up more shots before and after practice and eventually the ship will be righted.''
On Thursday, Bruesewitz had UW video coordinator Shariff Chambliss set up a camera in the practice gym, the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion, and he had a manager retrieve and rebound his shots.
After seeing himself on tape, he concluded, "I found out I'm a much larger human being than I thought I was.''
A sense of humor helps when you're in a slump. After reviewing his shooting mechanics, Bruesewitz said, "Everything looked fine, I just needed to see myself making some shots.''
Sometimes that's all it takes to get back on track.
"I know I'm a good shooter,'' he said. "I spent a lot of hours this summer (shooting) and a lot of hours the summer before and the summer before that. One of these days, they'll start going down.''
Welcome to the Madness.
As the Big Ten season hits the final few days and more than a dozen other conference tournaments get going, let us just go ahead and welcome all those sports fans whose interest in college basketball picks up -- right about this time of year.
More than one week away from Selection Sunday, and already I have heard what has turned into an annual question. How far will the Badgers advance in the NCAA tournament?
Who knows? Can we at least wait for the tournament pairings?
Boring as it might sound, that is the best answer I can give. However, there are some signs that the Badgers once again could be a tough out in postseason play.
The effort last Sunday at Ohio State certainly gives fans reason to believe. After coming close against highly-ranked teams such as North Carolina, Marquette, Michigan State and the first matchup with the Buckeyes, Wisconsin broke through with a 63-60 victory in Columbus.
In sports, there are some games that you steal. This was not one of them. The Badgers won it. They won it with a big-league effort from Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and company. With Taylor, it is the latest chapter in a terrific career, but to see Berggren have success at both ends of the floor against OSU big man Jared Sullinger is encouraging. Yes, it is simply one game, but what a game it was.
How about the recent play of Rob Wilson? The senior can hear the clock ticking on his college basketball career, and he is playing as though he would like it to last several more weeks.
To make a long story short, it appears as though a certain All-America point guard is getting more and more help from players not named Jordan Taylor. In two of the previous three games prior to Tuesday night's 52-45 victory against Minnesota, Wisconsin had four players scoring in double figures. Against Ohio State there were three, with Wilson adding nine critical points off the bench.
It is no secret that opposing teams have tried to do everything possible to contain Taylor. Still, there are times when Taylor proves to be next to impossible to stop. Just ask the Gophers. However, on other nights, Taylor needs the other four on the floor to pick him up. As the regular season comes to a close, the Badgers are showing they are capable of providing some balance.
"They're gonna have to," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "That is how you can get to keep playing. They are trying to be a more consistent unit, no matter who the five are on the court."
Against the Gophers, it was more a matter of Jordan needing to be Jordan. The senior guard knocked down 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range and then added 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Come tournament time, he may very well need to have a monster game --maybe more than one -- for Wisconsin to advance.
But perhaps the better chance for the Badgers would be if they are able to distribute the scoring.
On Tuesday, the Badgers finished a rather grueling stretch of playing three games in six days in three different cities. They won two of those, which assures the Badgers of a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament for the 12th-straight year.
And they are in line for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Some of the Badgers' games have been anything but pretty, but this streak of postseason appearances is a thing of beauty.
Wisconsin freshman Jarrod Uthoff got a sneak preview Thursday night of the type of reception that he will likely receive in the near future at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
The noisy crowd (14,248) - which was bolstered by a special promotion (free admission to students) - serenaded UW guard Ben Brust with boos every time he touched the basketball.
Brust had originally signed a national letter of intent to attend Iowa. But the Big Ten granted him a release after the Hawkeyes fired Todd Lickliter - the coach to whom Brust had committed.
The circumstances are different for Uthoff, the reigning Mr. Basketball in Iowa. As a senior, Uthoff led the state in scoring as he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds for Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
Uthoff had a sizeable contingent of family and friends at Thursday's game even though he never got off the bench for the Badgers. The 18-year-old Uthoff is redshirting this season.
"We think he's got a bright future and this has been a good year for Jarrod to improve and bang in practice against the guys that are ahead of him," said UW assistant coach Gary Close.
"He's added strength, which was a big reason why he redshirted in the first place."
The 6-foot-8 Uthoff has added 18 pounds and increased his weight to 210.
"We're putting money in the bank," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, "and if you can leave it in there a little longer you're going to get a higher interest rate for that fifth year."
"Redshirting is never a mistake; it's very rare when you don't have a better fifth year than your first year," added Close. "Jarrod's game is coming around; you can see it every day in practice."
Working on the scout team against the starters, Uthoff has shown some offensive skills.
"He's pretty athletic and long," Close said. "He can shoot the 3 and score around the basket. If he can add some strength and different parts to his game, he has a chance to be a good player."
As redshirts, Uthoff and freshman point guard George Marshall have been able to go to school on what it takes to deliver a consistent performance level every day in practice.
"Along with the strength issues, that's the one thing freshmen have to comprehend and figure out," Gard said. "That's playing hard on every possession - every possession every day matters."
Among the Cedar Rapids metro high school programs, Uthoff is the first senior to be honored as Mr. Basketball in Iowa since 2006 when Linn-Mar's Jason Bohannon was so recognized.
Bohannon scored over 1,000 career points and played in the second most games (135) in school history during his four years at Wisconsin. Bohannon, like Brust, was booed at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
That same fate likely awaits Bohannon's younger brother, Zach Bohannon, who's sitting out the mandatory redshirt year after transferring from the Air Force Academy.
The 6-6, 210-pound Bohannon has two years of eligibility remaining.
"He's a smart and experienced player," Close said of ZBo. "Here's a guy who has played a lot of basketball at a high Division-1 level (Bohannon appeared in 39 games during his two years at Air Force).
"He can knock down shots - as all the Bohannon's can. He'll bang a little bit. He can pick-and-pop. He's a good passer and pretty versatile around the basket with his right or left hand."
Bohannon joined the UW program late last summer.
"One thing that will benefit him," Gard said, "is that he will have the spring and eight weeks in June and July to develop from a physical standpoint and reconfigure his body a little bit more."
That window, Gard pointed out, will also be valuable to incoming freshman Sam Dekker.
"He's physically starting to fill out and he already understands the importance of the weight room," Gard said. "He's not naïve or blinded by anything. He understands that he has to get stronger."
Last Tuesday night, Dekker scored 58 points in Sheboygan Lutheran's 80-73 win over Random Lake. He was 14-of-14 inside the arc, 5-of-10 on 3-pointers and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.
Dekker also had eight rebounds, five blocked shots and zero turnovers.
"A lot of guys can't get 58 points in a lay-up line much less in a basketball game," Close observed. "That's impressive and I don't care who you're playing against."
After watching Dekker play earlier this season, Close said, "He's a very versatile player in terms of being able to score in a lot of different ways. He's athletic, he plays hard and he's been well-coached.
"The fans here are going to love him."
Gard agreed about the dimension that Dekker can bring to the offense.
"He's a variety scorer," Gard said. "He can post. He'll rebound and go rim-to-rim with the ball. He's got great vision and he sees the whole floor. Plus, he's very unselfish."
What about transitioning from Sheboygan Lutheran's suspect competitive level to the Big Ten? Gard cited the experience Dekker has gained from playing against the best of the best in AAU basketball.
"He can more than hold his own," Gard said.
That's very true despite Dekker falling short of being named a McDonald's All-American.
"Maybe that's a benefit," Close said. "It's probably not fair because he certainly deserved it. But it's a chip that he can put on his shoulder as far as, 'Hey, I'm going to prove those people wrong.'
"Sam is that type of kid; he's very competitive. I think maybe in the long run it will help."