GAME NOTES: Having recently picked up his 700th career win, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan has his team in the Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinals for the third straight year, as the Badgers take on the Michigan State Spartans for the right to move on to Sunday's title tilt.
Michigan State had a relatively easy time of it in its quarterfinal-round clash with Northwestern, beating the Wildcats for the third time this season, all by double digits, and for the 20th time in the last 22 meetings overall. The Spartans improved to 20-13 all-time in the Big Ten Tournament, and they are seeking their fourth title after winning it all in 1999, 2000 and 2012.
Wisconsin whipped Minnesota in Friday's quarterfinal round, 83-57, marking the most points ever scored by the Badgers in this event. Additionally, their 26- point margin of victory was their largest ever in the Big Ten Tournament, and the fourth-largest in the event's history. Wisconsin, now 18-15 all-time in the Big Ten tourney, lost to Ohio State in last year's championship game, and they are hoping to win their third crown after previously turning the trick in 2004 and 2008.
These two teams met only once during the regular season, with the Badgers prevailing at home, 60-58, on Feb. 9. Still, the Spartans lead the all-time series, 74-61.
Michigan State, the third seed in this tournament, controlled the action at both ends of the court in Friday's rout of Northwestern, particularly in the first half as it shot 55.2 percent from the floor and led 40-22 at intermission. Easing up in the final frame, the Spartans had 15 players get into the game, although only two wound up scoring in double figures. Branden Dawson, playing in his fourth bout after missing considerable time with a broken hand, paced the team with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Gary Harris finished with 13 points and seven boards. Collectively, MSU made good on 45 percent of its total shots, went 8-of-19 from 3-point range, and dominated the glass to the tune of a 40-24 rebounding advantage.
Ben Brust scored a career-high 29 points to lead No.2 seed Wisconsin to its comfortable win over Minnesota on Friday, as he went 8-of-15 from the floor, including four 3-pointers, and a perfect 9-of-9 at the foul line. As a team, the Badgers knocked down 54.5 percent of their field goal attempts, which included a 10-of-24 showing from beyond the arc, and they logged a 40-34 rebounding advantage as well. Frank Kaminsky spearheaded that latter effort by coming up with 12 caroms. Reserves Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig tallied 15 and 14 points, respectively, helping the UW bench outscore UM's, 38-12. The Golden Gophers were stymied to the tune of 32.8 percent field goal efficiency.
Wisconsin survived a nip-and-tuck battle when these two teams met in Madison early last month, as the Badgers had four players score in double figures. Neither team lit the world on fire from a shooting perspective, with the UW hitting 45.2 percent from the floor and MSU only 39.3 percent. Adreian Payne was high man for the Spartans with 24 points, while Hayes led the Badgers with 14.
Expect another tough, grind-it-out battle between two teams that have the talent and depth needed to go on a long postseason run. Both are headed to the NCAA Tournament, but winning this gathering of Big Ten brethren means almost as much. Give a slight nod to the Spartans, who seem to be as healthy as they've been in some time.
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