INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rob Wilson spent his first four seasons at Wisconsin trying to fit in.
In Friday’s Big Ten quarterfinals, he emerged as the Badgers’ shooting star.
The senior guard with only two career starts made seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 30 points to lead No. 14 Wisconsin past No. 15 Indiana 79-71, giving coach Bo Ryan a record-breaking win, as well.
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It’s a performance the Badgers won’t soon forget.
“I think all the players, I think all the teams that we’ve had have worked so hard and I just happened to be the guy roaming the sidelines,” said Ryan, who became the school’s career leader in victories with No. 266.
Wilson, the most unlikely of heroes, made sure the Badgers coach was along for the ride again Friday.
He came into the game with season averages of 10.7 points, 3.1 points, a season-high of 11 points, a career-high of 13 and a career 3-point shooting percentage of 27.8.
But he was a completely different player Friday. As he fought through defenders, sprinted to open spots and beat a bevy of Indiana defenders, Wilson knocked down 7 of 10 from 3-point range and 11 of 16 shots overall. And, of course, he made all the big ones.
Because of Wilson, the Badgers (24-8) will get another shot against No. 8 Michigan State. The Spartans won both regular season meetings and were one of three conference teams tied atop the regular-season standings. Michigan State advanced to the tourney semifinals with a 92-75 victory over Iowa.
“The weight of the ball felt like it was going in today. I don’t remember that feeling in a long time,” Wilson said. “I don’t know when the last time was I’ve been in the interview room.”
For the Badgers, it was a record-setting day.
In addition to Wilson’s big game and Ryan’s record-breaking win, they also tied the tourney record by making 13 of 26 from 3-point range. It had been done four other times, most recently by Purdue in Thursday night’s opening round. They also extended the school’s longest winning streak against Indiana to 10 straight.
The Hoosiers (25-8) haven’t beaten Wisconsin since Jan. 31, 2007.
Just hours after announcing point guard Verdell Jones was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, the Hoosiers turned in their worst performance in weeks. Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Cody Zeller each scored 17 points. Only two other players had more than five.
The defensive breakdowns wound up costing Indiana its five-game winning streak and a shot at its first tournament title. Coach Tom Crean wasn’t completely surprised by Wilson’s game. Indiana just couldn’t do anything to stop him.
“As we told our team, he was the most improved player on their team since the last time we played them,” Crean said. “He brought a different dose of energy to their team when he was in the game. But to shoot it the way he did today. In the last five games he hit seven 3s, and today he hit seven 3s. Some of them were reading screens wrong, some of them were overhelp situations. … But they don’t put anybody out on the floor that can’t make shots.”
It didn’t take long to see how this game would develop.
Wisconsin jumped out quickly, making seven 3-pointers in the first 10 minutes with most coming on wide-open looks. It allowed the Badgers to take a 28-18 lead, and forced the Hoosiers to play catch-up the rest of the game.
Indiana closed to 36-31 at the break, but every time it got close in the second half, Wilson always seemed to have an answer.
After Jordan Taylor was called for a flagrant foul — of the old intentional variety — on what would have been a breakaway layup, Victor Oladipo made 1 of 2 free throws, and Indiana then turned the ball over.
Wilson responded with back-to-back 3s to make it 48-41.
When Indiana again closed to 48-47, Wilson hit another 3.
“I don’t know if I can pinpoint a specific point where I knew he was hot, but you could definitely feel it,” Badgers forward Jared Berggren said. “You could see the confidence in him. He’s been doing this in practice lately.”
So was there any doubt who the Badgers would go to when they needed the late knockout punch?
All Wilson did this time was make his last 3 of the game with 35.4 seconds left to send the Hoosiers home empty-handed.
“Rob’s a scorer, he can put it in the hole and he showed that tonight. It’s something he’s been doing here recently now,” Taylor said. “I’m just happy for him. I’m so happy, I feel like I had 30.”