Beloved college basketball analyst Bill Raftery loves to dish out the “ONIONS!” when a player makes a clutch play late in a game. In that case, the state of Wisconsin has served quite a lot of onions to go along with its cheese this week.
Just three nights after the Green Bay Packers delivered the goods in Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Wisconsin’s college basketball team thrived under pressure and managed to avoid a look-ahead trap in Iowa City, Iowa.
Jordan Taylor’s onion-rich basket tied the score with 33 seconds left in regulation, forcing an overtime period and enabling the Wisconsin Badgers to fend off the Iowa Hawkeyes at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Wednesday night. The sloppy but gritty win in a raucous enemy lair enabled Wisconsin to avoid an embarrassing loss to a lower-tier conference opponent just three days before the heavily-anticipated showdown against big, bad Ohio State. Wisconsin already had one eye on the Buckeyes, but thanks to Taylor’s cash-money basket in the final minute of the second half, the Badgers survived the Hawkeyes’ ambush attempt.
Just how horrid was Wisconsin in the first half of this contest? The Badgers hit just six shots in 33 attempts – that’s 18 percent if you’re doing the math at home. Moreover, Wisconsin managed to commit six turnovers while failing to hit the ocean from the shore. Coach Bo Ryan’s UW crew was dreaming of knocking off the unbeaten Ohio State colossus that comes to Madison on Saturday afternoon, but in the meantime, coach Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes – propelled by a thunderous home crowd at Carver – were interested in the game being played in the present moment. The true miracle – and the saving grace – for Wisconsin was that the truly awful first half somehow produced a deficit of just five points. Indeed, while UW posted only 18 points before halftime, Iowa managed only 23. In many ways, that was the story of this typically rugged Big Ten slugfest: While Iowa carried the play for most of the evening, the Hawkeyes could never land the knockout punch. Wisconsin stayed in the fight, answering every move Iowa made. When the Hawks grabbed a 49-43 lead with 7:15 to go in the game, the Badgers promptly posted five quick points to reduce their deficit to 49-48, setting up the photo finish created when Taylor – in a game led by Iowa, 53-51 – drained a ballsy shot to knot the score at 53. Iowa had a chance to win the game on the final possession of regulation, but Bryce Cartwright threw up an off-balance jumper that wasn’t especially close.
Liberated by their escape from death, the Badgers took charge in the overtime period. Back-to-back buckets by Tim Jarmusz (a triple) and Jon Leuer gave UW a 61-57 lead with just under a minute left, and the Badgers denied Iowa the three-pointers the home team needed in order to make a comeback. McCaffery has Iowa pointed in the right direction, but Wisconsin affirmed its identity as one of the Big Ten’s most consistent programs.
Now – but only now – can UW finally set its sights on Ohio State in the Big Ten’s most significant remaining regular-season game in 2011.