Wisconsin can shoot, defend and more; Arizona knows it
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Sleep on Wisconsin? Here’s the one thing you need to know about the Badgers: They’ve beaten Michigan State, Michigan, Virginia and Florida.
As of Friday, all were still alive in the NCAA tournament.
"We’ve played a lot of teams with top-10 offenses, but out of all of the teams, I’d say Wisconsin’s is the best," Arizona’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said of Saturday’s Elite Eight meeting with Wisconsin at the Honda Center. "They can shoot, they can shoot, did I say they can shoot? It’s going to be a tough game, hard-fought game."
Wisconsin’s 29 wins are hardly a fluke. In fact, the Badgers might be the most complete team the Wildcats will have faced to this point, boasting big man Frank Kaminsky, shooter Ben Brust, steady guard Traevon Jackson, forward Sam Dekker and guard Josh Gasser.
Unlike years past, when Wisconsin was a strictly a defense-minded team, it’s turned into a scoring machine. The Badgers have posted their best season offensively in 19 years and the best under coach Bo Ryan. They scored a school-record 2,656 points and are just three 3-pointers (283) shy of breaking the school record. And although Wisconsin is a totally different team from Arizona, it did have a similar season. The Badgers went 16-0 to start the season while Arizona went 21-0. They are two wins shy of tying the school’s all-time single-season mark of 31; at 33 wins, Arizona is too.
"We recognize they are one of the best teams in the country," said Wildcats coach Sean Miller. "Their ability to shoot the 3-point shot speaks for itself."
And their ability to keep turnovers to a minimum and score at a good rate makes the Badgers even more lethal. Wisconsin entered the Sweet 16 averaging 73.9 points per game, good for fifth in the nation in offensive efficiency, while ranking first in the nation in fewest turnovers (8.0) and second in fouls committed (15 per game).
Resilient. Disciplined. Unselfish. "Tough" and, um, "white guys" were the words the Wisconsin starters used when asked to describe their team. The latter description came from Kaminsky, the Badgers’ 7-footer.
"Not one of our guys said athletic," Ryan said. "Did you notice that?"
That’s rarely mattered for Wisconsin under Ryan. And Arizona has seen similar Wisconsin teams before — in similar circumstances, even. Back in 2000, with the nation’s top team and a No. 1 seed, the Wildcats lost to the Badgers, who put together a methodical, precision-like performance.
"They don’t beat themselves," Miller said. "Historically, Wisconsin can play with five or fewer (turnovers). They talk about the 3-point line. But the best part of Wisconsin’s offense is their ability to shot fake."
Which will make it difficult for Arizona to defend beyond the 3-point line and still keep the Badgers from penetrating to the basket, something that’s been a problem in two of the last three games for the Wildcats. They will have to figure out how to be aggressive yet stay composed.
"They shoot the ball excellent at all five positions," said Arizona guard Nick Johnson. "It’s about being (aware) of where everybody is."
Same for Wisconsin, a team that must find a way to match up athletically. Ryan’s comment — funny or not — was a serious one inasmuch as the Badgers will have to match up with Johnson, sharpshooter Gabe York, freshman forward Aaron Gordon and fellow freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson off the bench.
"(Gordon’s) a very good player, and you’ve got to respect that," said Dekker, who likely will be tasked with defending Gordon. "You’ve got to be ready for a lot of things that he’s going to throw at you. As a competitor, you want to play against the best players. I take this as a challenge."
"They are really long and athletic like Baylor, but they obviously play a lot differently from them, too," said Brust. "They’ll get up to you and put on pressure in the backcourt. We’re looking to draw fouls and throw them off-balance a little bit with early foul trouble."
Foul trouble is exactly what happened to Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski on Thursday night, when he picked up this fourth foul just a minute into the second half. He did not foul out, though, and the 7-footer said he has learned from that game.
"It’s about being smart and playing our defense, sticking to our defensive principles," Tarczewski said. "Play our defense and we will be fine."
Sounds so easy.