Wisconsin Tops Illinois for Big Ten Tournament Title
March 16, 2008
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Wisconsin won the Big Ten tournament with stout defense, and coach Bo Ryan said that's what will carry the Badgers if they make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Brian Butch scored 12 points, and No. 8 Wisconsin beat upstart Illinois 61-48 on Sunday to sweep the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles for the first time.
The Badgers held Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois below 43 percent shooting during the tournament, and Ryan said it's because the players are executing within the system.
"The rules we have, this team has adhered to better in the past 2 1/2 months probably better than any team I've coached," he said. "If we can keep doing that, we can keep playing."
The Badgers earned a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region. They will play Cal State Fullerton in a first-round game Thursday in Omaha.
Ryan said his Badgers (29-4) could have been a No. 2 seed, but they don't mind where they are slotted because they've already accomplished more than most expected. The media didn't even pick Wisconsin to finish in the top three in the conference in the preseason poll.
"After the way we started and what was predicted and all that other stuff, for this team to be in the top 12 teams in the nation, I think people would have said 'OK, we'll take it."'
Butch said the seed wasn't important.
"You just play who they put in front of you," he said. "I thought we did a good job of putting our resume out there, doing the things that we've done and winning the way we've won and beating the teams we've beat. Nobody thought we'd be where we're at. You've just got to keep playing and beating people, and hopefully it works out."
Butch said the Badgers know next to nothing about their opponent.
"We don't know much," he said. "You're able to catch them on TV and watch them a little bit. We'll get home tonight, and tomorrow, we'll be able to see what they offer us."
Another strength for the Badgers is balance. Marcus Landry, the tournament's most outstanding player, had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win over Illinois. He's one of five Badgers who entered the tournament averaging between nine and 13 points. Michael Flowers joined Landry on the all-tournament team.
"I don't know how you pick an outstanding player," Ryan said. "He'd be the first to tell you what a balanced effort it was for the team. It's really nice to see when guys like Landry ... become a part of something special."
Shaun Pruitt led the 10th-seeded Fighting Illini (16-19) with 13 points and eight rebounds in the championship game. Illinois had won four straight games, including a win over No. 17 Purdue in the quarterfinals.
Wisconsin won all three games against the Illini this season by double digits, and will enter the NCAA tournament on a 10-game winning streak.
Illinois fans took advantage of the short 2-hour drive to Indianapolis, and the team's orange and blue were the dominant colors in the crowd. Illinois coach Bruce Weber wore a bright orange blazer, something he saves for the biggest games.
None of that mattered to the Badgers.
Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes, who sprained his left ankle in the second half of the semifinal win over No. 19 Michigan State on Saturday, started against Illinois. He hit a long jumper as time expired in the first half to give Wisconsin a 29-22 lead.
The Badgers opened the second half on a 10-4 run. Flowers put Wisconsin ahead 39-26 with 16:26 to go and the Badgers went on to lead by as many as 20 points.
Illinois would have been the second team to qualify for the NCAA field with a losing record this season. Coppin State (16-20) made it by winning the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.
The Illini also would have been the lowest seed to win the Big Ten tournament, and the only one to win four games in as many days to claim the championship.
Illinois' streak of nine straight NCAA tournament appearances ended. Though his team had a losing record, Weber felt his team was good enough to be one of the final 65.
"It's disappointing," he said. "We finally figured it out at the end and got guys to buy in. We should have been waiting to see where we were going."