Bo Ryan’s system isn’t complicated: Stress discipline. Make fewer mistakes, play stern defense with minimal fouls, be patient, take high-percentage shots.
Or just bore your opponent to death. That system beat new No. 1 Indiana 64-59 in the heart of Hoosierland on Jan. 15. That system has the Badgers, 6-3 in the Big Ten, poised for their 12th consecutive NCAA appearance under Ryan.
They were in typical form Sunday, building a 15-point lead and running another clinic for Illinois, 74-68, with a crisp, opportunistic approach at the Assembly Hall. Ryan has won 12 of the last 16 against Illinois and is 65-64 in Big Ten road games, the only current coach above .500. The Badgers are 9-5 in other Big Ten arenas during the last two seasons.
It doesn’t matter who dons those nameless red uniforms. Examples:
— In Madison, senior center Jared Berggren had 15 points and 12 rebounds in a 74-51 rout of the Illini. Berggren was limited by foul trouble Sunday. Up steps 6-foot-11 sophomore Frank Kaminsky, a Lisle product who attended Benet Academy. Having missed three Big Ten games due to a scratched eye, he had scored just nine points in Big Ten play, but he punished the Illini with 19 on 12-for-14 free throwing.
— Before the season, Wisconsin lost its best guard, Josh Gasser. Best guard on the floor Sunday was Ben Brust, a junior from Mundelein, who arrived with a 10-point average and shattered the Illini with 20. Said UI coach John Groce: “And he did it without fouling once (in 38 minutes).”
NCAA hopes for Illinois took another setback with Sunday’s loss. The Illini are 2-7 in league play with Indiana coming to the Assembly Hall on Thursday. An 8-10 league record, considered the minimum for tournament play, now appears out of reach as the Illini have dropped four straight at home.
Groce tried to send a message by not starting Brandon Paul, whose defense was unacceptable Thursday at Michigan State. The team struggled out of the gate Sunday and Paul missed his first seven shots, finishing 3 for 13.
Groce elected to insert little-used walk-on Mike LaTulip during the slow-starting first half, and the Badgers took advantage. With Illinois ahead 16-14 on one of D.J. Richardson’s two treys (no other Illini hit any), Brust shot over LaTulip for a go-ahead three. Then on consecutive possessions, the 6-foot LaTulip was forced into switches against the lanky Kaminsky, who promptly converted two free throws and a lay-in.
The lead shot to 29-22, freshman sixth man Sam Dekker garnering two lay-ins, the second after a lengthy discussion relating to an incorrect shot clock. Moments later, the half ended on Groce’s third technical of the season when he complained that Paul was fouled on a drive. Brust missed both free throws to leave it at 33-24 when the second half got underway.
Joseph Bertrand, who started in place of Paul, joined Nnanna Egwu (14 points) as the bright spots for Illinois. Bertrand scored 15 of his 17 points after the break with a series of penetrating runners. Five Illini hit double figures, but this was a repeat of Thursday’s defensive breakdown at Michigan State.
Earning their stripes
You can’t guard free throws. After allowing 32 attempts in the second half Thursday, the Illini gave up 31 more after the break Sunday.
“We are in trouble when opponents shoot more than 30 free throws in a half,” Groce said. “We made some intentional fouls late, but Wisconsin was on the double bonus with eight minutes to go.
“Defensive execution was not good. We fouled too much, we ran into screens, we didn’t trust the system. We can’t be on five different islands. We have to trust our principles. By this stage we should have some carryover collectively on defense. We have too many holes.”
Groce went on:
“We shot 54 percent in the second half, and my guess is that not many teams have done that against Wisconsin. I thought our quality of shots was pretty good.
“But it’s not about the offense. It’s about the defense. We gave up 88 percent shooting in the second half at Michigan State, and today we gave up 56 percent (the Badgers hit 10 of 18 in the second half).”
Illinois allowed fewer layups and dunks, permitting 11 easy ones and actually outscoring Wisconsin in the paint, 36-24. But the Badgers shook free on a series of close-in goals midway in the second half, rebuffing Bertrand’s hot streak and, ahead 62-47, nursed it to the finish with free throws.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.