MILWAUKEE — Buzz Williams pulled Derrick Wilson aside after practice Friday and asked the sophomore backup point guard if he remembered what he told him when Wilson signed with Marquette.
Wilson responded by repeating the Marquette coach’s line that Williams would be the most loyal person he knows. Williams went on to tell Wilson that he had earned the right to start but wasn’t going to. Because of his loyalty, Williams was sticking with senior point guard Junior Cadougan.
Cadougan rewarded that loyalty Saturday by single-handedly taking over a game against the Golden Eagles’ in-state rival. When Wisconsin cut Marquette’s big lead to just three points with 9:13 to play, Cadougan scored 13 points the rest of the way, including three old-fashioned three-point plays.
Marquette walked away with a 60-50 victory, its first double-digit win over Wisconsin since 1994. Cadougan finished with a career-high 18 points, six assists and just one turnover while making seven of 10 shots.
“I thought in that run where Junior carried us, that was as well as he’s ever played,” Williams said. “Junior has been through an unbelievable amount since he’s been in Milwaukee.”
That included being suspended for last season’s game against the Badgers. His team earned a hard-fought win at Kohl Center, but not playing ate away at Cadougan.
He didn’t want his legacy in the rivalry to be his team winning while he sat on the bench.
“My team always looks for me to lead, whatever I have to do on the court to lead them, I’ll do that,” Cadougan said.
“This is a big rivalry game; this is my senior year, and I really wanted this win because I’ve never beaten Wisconsin. It’s a great feeling.”
A top-100 recruit in high school, Cadougan ruptured his right Achilles’ in a workout prior to his freshman season. Nobody knows exactly what the Toronto native would have been if that hadn’t happened, but there’s little doubt it was a setback.
When 40 nominees for the Cousy Award, given to the top point guard in college basketball, were announced before the season, point guards from the likes of Northern Arizona, Niagara, Drexel and Manhattan were on the list but not Cadougan.
Saturday on a big stage, Cadougan showed the aggressiveness and toughness that made him one of the best prep point guards just a few years ago.
“I think that he has unbelievable toughness,” Williams said. “It just doesn’t always appear sexy because he’s not a great athlete. He’s not a great shooter.
“Because of who Junior is and his story, where he comes from and what he’s about and how he was raised, I root for those kind of guys. He’s very similar to me; I just speak better. But his heart, he’s got an unbelievable ticker.”
While the point guard position won the game for Marquette, it lost the game for the Badgers. The position has been an ever-present story line since Josh Gasser went down with a torn ACL prior to the season, and the Badgers’ young guards struggled to handle the extreme pressure applied to them.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan tried bringing the ball up with Traevon Jackson, Ryan Evans, Ben Brust, George Marshall and Zak Showalter in the first half alone, but none of them could get the job done. The Badgers had 10 turnovers in the first half that to 10 points by the Golden Eagles. If Marquette hadn’t have missed eight first half free throws, the game would have been over early.
“I don’t think it was because they were young, that’s how we want to play against all guards,” Marquette’s Vander Blue said of the pressure. “Just get up into them, take a few more seconds off the shot clock to help our defense.”
The Badgers did clean up their act in the second half, and they got back in the game as a result. When Cadougan started taking over — hitting three shots in a row, including his first three-point play – Marquette’s lead only grew by one point because Wisconsin was able to answer.
“It’s tough,” Cadougan said of the Badgers’ fighting back. “You do one thing and have to go onto the next play. Teams are good. Wisconsin, they are great at execution. You have to keep on hitting them and hitting them and hitting them until they fall down. It was a tough fight.”
Fittingly, Cadougan delivered the knockout blow. Up 55-50 with 40 seconds left, Williams sensed that UW was going to try for a turnover and he was right. The Badgers put all five players in the frontcourt, which meant the call was to go for the home run pass. With timeouts in hand in case it didn’t work, Cadougan released and went long. Blue hit him with a perfect pass, Cadougan caught it and finished while being fouled, ending UW’s hopes.
“I knew Vander had enough guts to throw it, and I knew Junior had enough guts to catch it and finish it,” Williams said.