March 29, 2010

Recapping the season: The headlines

MADISON - For a Wisconsin team that many thought would finish in the lower quarter of the Big Ten standings, the 2009-10 season didn't turn out too bad.

Whether it was the 24 wins, the way the team responded following Jon Leuer's injury or Jason Bohannon dropping 30 points on Indiana, there were plenty of headlining topics that stood out during UW's 24-9 season.

Now, after a somewhat disheartening loss to Cornell put an earlier than expected stamp on the season, BadgerBlitz.com recaps one of the more entertaining and exciting seasons in recent Badger memory.

THE HEADLINES:

Badgers tabbed in lower tier of pre-season conference standings:

Following the departure of Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft, two regular starters and critical contributors to the squad, many pundits didn't see much good for this Wisconsin team.

Instead of realizing a Bo Ryan team had never finished below fourth place in the Big Ten, analysts thought the loss of Landry and Krabbenhoft deemed too large a void to replace. It turns out that the joke was on them.

In the game of college basketball, players leave early and graduate. It's simply the nature of the game. So, to think the Badger coaching staff didn't plan for this year even during the final season with Landry and Krabbenhoft was borderline foolish. It's simply a plus for teams that don't have players bolting for the NBA after a season or two. Seniors stepped up.

Just like teams were able to succeed following the departure of such players like Devin Harris (2004), Mike Wilkinson and Clayton Hanson (2005), Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor (2007) and Brian Butch and Michael Flowers (2008), this Badger squad was able to move forward.

Behind Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon, the Badgers logged a 24-9 record and reached a school-record 12th straight NCAA tournament. Though the season ended abruptly with a sudden loss to a then blazing hot Cornell squad, this team proved it was more than capable of proving the doubters wrong.

Badgers shock the Blue Devils:

When Duke entered the Kohl Center in early December, it did so as the only team to never lose a Big Ten/ACC Challenge game. Then again, the Blue Devils had never played inside the Kohl Center where Wisconsin is one of the best in the nation at defending its home court.

By the time the second half buzzer sounded, Hughes and his teammates were ecstatically greeted by thousands of delirious fans as the Badgers never trailed while going on to win 73-69.

"We figured we just had to shorten the game," UW head coach Bo Ryan said following the win. "We had to just make that clock tick away. They're just too good offensively. We just figured the fewer possessions we could give them in the end…

"Forturnately we did shorten the game because they found their shooting touch after going a seven or eight minute period without a field goal."

It can easily be said that the crowd inside the Kohl Center that night was the most electric crowd of the year. It may have even been one of the more intimidating and loud crowds in the history of the Kohl Center.

The Badgers, who had opened the season with impressive wins over Arizona and Maryland in the Maui Invitational, added another resume boosting win to its pallette just over two weeks into the season.

The win was the first of many top 10 wins the Badgers would endure and elevated the Badgers onto the national scene.

UW to be tested without Leuer:

Across the Big Ten it became obvious that players of elite status were somehow being infected with an injury bug that seemed about as contagious as a common cold. First, Kevin Coble suffered a season ending injury before the season even started. Then, Evan Turner was on the wrong end of a dunk mishap that sidelined him for six games.

Maurice Creek from Indiana and Lewis Jackson from Purdue were already out for a significant amount of time with their respective injuries before Jon Leuer joined the club when he broke his wrist bracing for a fall against Purdue in early January.

Finally, Kalin Lucas, who suffered a sprained ankle against Wisconsin[/db], missed a game against Illinois before returning for the stretch run. However, in the NCAA tournament, Lucas saw his season come to an end with a ruptured Achilles Tendon. And then there is Robbie Hummel, who suffered a torn ACL against Minnesota late in the season that abruptly ended his junior year.

But for a Wisconsin team, one that relied on Leuer as one of its few interior players, the loss could have been devastating if the team would have let it.

"We feel real bad for him," UW junior forward Keaton Nankivil said. "He's a tough player and we know he loves to play. It probably huts him more than anything just not to be out there with us. At the same time, we know he's going to support us. He's definitely a big time team guy. It's nothing that he's going to sit and expect anybody to feel sorry for him, but just being teammates for so long everybody has a little piece of 'sorry Jon' that is the situation."

At first it seemed as though the junior forward could be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Instead, he missed nine games and rejoined the team for the stretch run.

Before the injury, and specifically against Purdue when the injury happened, Wisconsin was playing some of its best basketball of the season. The team was functioning at its highest level with its best efficiency and the wins kept piling up.

Leuer was establishing himself as a legitimate first-team All-Conference type player and UW was rolling. Then the injury happened.

Suddenly Wisconsin went from one of the more balanced offenses in the league to one that relied heavily on shots from downtown. Sometimes that mantra worked, but other times it left the Badgers searching for offensive production when the shots wouldn't drop.

But, to give credit where it is due, UW stepped up and went 6-3 over the stretch without Leuer and stayed in steady contention for a Big Ten title up until the very final week of the season. In the end, the Badgers missed a share of the conference crown by only one game.

Bohannon's hot streak:

With Leuer sidelined, Jason Bohannon realized that it was his time to shine. As a senior, Bohannon realized this was his final go round and the team needed his silky smooth jumper more than ever before.

So, instead of being a spot up shooter, Bohannon asserted himself on the offensive side of the ball and started becoming more of a creator for himself and his team. Over a period of nine games, Bohannon was blazing hot from the field. At one point during the stretch, the senior guard was hitting over 60 percent of his shots from the field and over 50 percent from beyond the arc.

"Anytime you've been in this system for a period of time, you're bound to get more experience in knowing when to attack and when to add certain aspects to your game," Bohannon said following his 30-point eruption against Indiana. "That's the same with our whole team. Every person on our team has gotten better throughout the years and they've been here because they've been listening to coach Ryan.

"They know when the best time to utilize certain areas is."

Eventually, as most hot streaks do, Bohannon started to fizzle out. With back-to-back games against Illinois in the regular season finale and Big Ten quarterfinals, Bohannon struggled to maintain his stroke.

Then, in the opening round game against Wofford, the senior guard failed to score a point in a much closer than expected 53-49 win. Against Cornell with a shot at the 'Sweet 16' on the line, Bohannon started to play a bit better, but it came in a losing effort to a scorching Big Red team.

Overall, when the team needed a senior leader to step up with the absence of Leuer, Bohannon elevated his game to its highest point of his career.

Rough ending:

When the Badgers went down to Champaign for the regular season finale and whooped a desperate Illini squad, it seemed as though UW had established plenty of momentum heading into postseason play.

Jon Leuer had shaken all the rust off of his game after his long injury timeout and the Badgers were back to playing at a level that hadn't been seen since early January.

Then the Big Ten Tournament came and a miserable 18 percent shooting half accompanied it. Against the same Illinois squad the Badgers dismantled on the road just a mere five days earlier, Wisconsin couldn't find its stroke on the Conseco Fieldhouse court and suffered a daunting, if not confusing, loss to Illinois.

In that game, at least until the final four minutes of the contest, it seemed as though Wisconsin had forgotten everything it had done to that point in the season. They took bad shots, didn't move the ball around, got outworked on the glass and failed to prevent Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale from exploiting the pick and roll to perfection.

But, even at the time, the loss early in the conference tournament seemed like it could be a blessing in disguise as it gave UW another full week to prepare for the NCAA's. But, much like it did against Illinois the week prior, Wisconsin struggled to find its rhythm and groove. As a result, the Badgers limped past a hungry Wofford squad in the opening round and moved on to face a much better than seeded Cornell squad.

In that game, it didn't take long to notice that the Badgers were in trouble. The Big Red jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead and maintained that edge throughout the remainder of the game. Though UW cut it down to three late in the first half, it was only a momentary blip of excitement in a game where waves of adrenaline were tough to come by.

UW eventually finished the season with a humbling 87-69 loss to Cornell and departed the national scene with a heap of disappointment.

"It was very frustrating, but they shot the ball well," Hughes said following that loss. "We had our hands in their faces on a couple of their jump shots and their confidence got going from that. "It's hard to take away their confidence when they're clicking on all cylinders and like Jason (Bohannon) said, it started from the tip.

"We hang our defense, but we kind of got antsy and when we're down, it's kind of hard coming back from a good team."

Part two of BadgerBlitz.com's basketball season recap deals with the highlights and dominating performances of the season.







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