Unlikely hero Wilson delivers for Wisconsin

INDIANAPOLIS — Rob Wilson admitted that the kind of game he had Friday, coming from next to nowhere to score 30 points as Wisconsin’s hero of the day in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals, was the kind he’d dreamed of having.

Wilson must be one heck of a wild dreamer.

A senior who came in averaging 3.1 points in a little less than 11 minutes per game, the Cleveland native carved himself a little piece of Big Ten tournament history by making 11 of 16 shots, including seven 3-pointers, and becoming just the sixth player in tournament history to post a 30-point game as the Badgers beat Indiana 79-71.

He scored 20 of his 30 points in the second half and hit the game’s biggest shot with 35 seconds left to turn what had been a tenuous hold on the lead into a silencer. The rainbow 3-pointer found nothing but net to put the Badgers up 72-65, and that turned out to be more than enough to win a game that could make Wisconsin a No. 3 seed when the NCAA tournament bracket is released Sunday.

“I just have to try to do it again tomorrow,” Wilson said.

For the first time in Wilson’s four years at Wisconsin, the Badgers won a Big Ten tournament game. They advance to play Michigan State in Saturday’s semifinals at 1:40 p.m. ET. The top-seeded Spartans will start looking for Wilson before noon.

“I was averaging, what, 2 or 3 points per game?” Wilson said. “I just hope I can continue to help my team. Today, guys got me open shots and I knocked them down.”

At about 2:45 Friday afternoon, Indiana fans — and there were a bunch of them inside Banker’s Life Fieldhouse — wouldn’t have been able to pick Wilson out of a crowd. Of 10. Two hours later, 200 or so Wisconsin fans were singing his name as he left the court as the honored guest of the official Badgers’ radio postgame show for the first time ever.

“I wasn’t expecting that one,” Wilson said of the fans chanting his name.

Chalk it up with the rest. For a little perspective on why Wilson wasn’t exactly on the first page of Indiana’s scouting report, check this:

  • — His previous career high was 13 points. His season high was 11.
  • — His previous high for field-goal attempts in a game was eight. His previous high for 3-point attempts in a game was six.
  • — His previous high for made 3-pointers in a game was three at Ohio State two weeks ago. He’d made 15-of-43 3-point tries on the season.
  • — He scored 36 points all of last season. He scored 29 points — total — in February, and that was by far his highest-scoring month of this year.

Wilson said he never got discouraged that he wasn’t playing a bigger role, and his teammates said they’ve seen him catch fire in practice. That’s usually been as a member of the scout team, and that’s been fine with Wilson, too.

“He is quiet but, boy, he works,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “There’s no one who dislikes Rob Wilson. No one.”

His teammates couldn’t have been happier for him, or for their third shot at Michigan State this season. Jordan Taylor, the Badgers’ unquestioned leader, got in foul trouble Friday, and that got Wilson on the court a little earlier than usual. He made two of his first three 3-point tries, and in the second half he went from a guy who was open to a guy his teammates were looking for.

“I knew he was capable of that,” Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans said. “He’s done it consistently in practice. I’ve been here four years with him, and I’ve known he could shoot. Every time (Indiana) tried to make a comeback, he knocked another one down.”

Said Indiana coach Tom Crean: “We knew (Wilson) has been playing better lately, but to shoot it like that? He got hot, and we didn’t do a great job changing that.”

Because nobody’s quite perfect, Wilson missed everything on an ill-advised 3-pointer with a little less than three minutes to go. He scored in traffic on the next possession. When Evans missed the front end of a one-and-one in the closing seconds with the game all but wrapped up, one Wisconsin player outhustled four Indiana players to the rebound.


“He believes every shot he takes is going to go in,” Ryan said. “We’ve got some guys on our team that don’t believe that. They try to get us (coaches) to believe it, but if they play defense, hustle, rebound, things like that, guys can play for us. Rob is one of those guys where in streaks, he has done this in practice.

“Did I see 30 (points)? No. But I’ve known some guys that got lucky for one night. But that wasn’t luck. I mean, you look at those shots, he was open. His teammates got him the ball. He was squared up.”

Wisconsin-Indiana was the game of the tournament so far, and it lived up to its billing. A positively un-Wisconsin-like 79-point explosion was sparked by the unlikeliest of heroes, a senior who’s waited patiently for such a moment.

Wilson said he figured he had some 30-point games in high school, but one didn’t immediately come to mind. Asked who else recruited him, he said he didn’t remember because “that was a long time ago.” In May, Wilson is going to become the first person in his family to graduate from college. In March, he suddenly could be a key to pushing Wisconsin along in the NCAA tournament.

“It just felt like the ball was coming off my hand perfectly today,” Wilson said, “and that the hoop was a little bigger than it normally is.”