After losing twice to Wisconsin during the regular season, most would think that Ohio State owes the Badgers some payback.
In reality, the Buckeyes owe themselves a lot more.
By their own admission, the Buckeyes did not give Wisconsin their best shot the last time the two teams met. UW dominated the much anticipated Feb. 27 match-up in Value City Arena, winning 64-56.
Afterwards, several OSU players admitted they did not play with the proper intensity needed to knock off a nationally ranked team.
“Personally, I had packed it in,” admitted OSU’s Matt Sylvester. “I was playing like a big wimp. I take responsibility for that. I am utterly ashamed of myself. I don’t know really what else to say.”
The Buckeyes will get a chance to right that wrong when they tackle Wisconsin in tonight’s Big Ten tournament quarterfinal match-up at Chicago’s United Center (9 p.m. Eastern, ESPN-Plus). Sixth-seeded OSU improved to 20-11 with Thursday’s 72-69 win over Penn State, while the third-seeded Badgers will enter with a record of 20-7.
OSU guard J.J. Sullinger, who had 11 points in the win over Penn State, discussed what it will take to pull off the upset tonight.
“It’s going to take a total team effort,” Sullinger said. “We definitely look forward to it. Wisconsin is a good team and I think we are, too. We just have to go out, play hard and compete. This is kind of what you play basketball for. You get up at 5:30 and you lift and you don’t have spring break so you can work on things. It’s fun to compete.
“I’m competing with the people I love. I wouldn’t trade one of these guys today for (Michael) Jordan.”
OSU coach Thad Matta is familiar with the Badgers. In his first year as a head coach at Butler in 2000-01, his Bulldogs went into Madison and upset the 10th-ranked Badgers 58-44. A year later, Matta and his first Xavier team defeated Wisconsin 57-48 in Cincinnati. That was Bo Ryan’s first year as the UW coach, a season where the Badgers would go on to earn a piece of the Big Ten title.
But Ryan’s Badgers own two wins over Ohio State this season, evening Matta’s all-time mark against UW at 2-2.
“Obviously, I haven’t figured them out yet,” Matta joked. “With Wisconsin, I’ve said all along they are a great basketball team. They’re sound defensively. I think you have to make shots against them. I love (Mike) Wilkinson as a player. Having (Alando) Tucker back helps as well. The second time we played them, they shot so well in the first half we were never able to get out of that hole.”
Wisconsin won 72-66 on Jan. 11 in Madison, then took the win over OSU in Columbus.
At Madison, UW played without Tucker. But it didn’t matter as the 6-8 Wilkinson carried the load. He had a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds. Guards Clayton Harris (14 points) and Sharif Chambliss (11) also delivered.
OSU, led by 15 points from Terence Dials and 14 from Matt Sylvester, twice got the lead down to four in the final three minutes, but could get no closer.
Wisconsin’s win in Columbus was much more lopsided than the final eight-point margin indicates. Tucker had 19 points and nine rebounds and Wilkinson had 14 points and eight boards. UW led 37-27 at halftime and by as many as 15 in the second half before settling for the eight-point win. Dials was 8 of 10 from the floor and finished with 20 points. No other Buckeye reached double figures.
“That was probably one of the worst games we’ve played,” Sullinger said. “We didn’t play extremely well at home and we didn’t play that well against them on the road, either.”
Tucker, an athletic 6-5 forward and bad mismatch for most teams, leads UW at 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds per game. Wilkinson is next at 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. Guard Kammron Taylor averages 8.5 points per game, while Chambliss, a transfer from Penn State, adds 7.7 points per game.
“We have to limit their touches,” Dials said of Wilkinson and Tucker. “They are great offensive players. When they get the ball, it is tough to stop them. They are all-league players. We have to make other people try and beat us. We also have to rebound. I know a couple of times they got some offensive rebounds that hurt us.”
The Badgers have won three in a row and four of their last five going into the Big Ten tournament.
* Before yesterday’s game, OSU guard Tony Stockman had reached double figures in scoring just three times in the 10 games since he was moved out of the starting lineup. But Stockman rose up and struck for 25 points in the win over PSU, scoring 19 of them in the pivotal second half as the Buckeyes rallied from down 15 to get the win.
“With Tony, we all agree that he is capable of having those type of nights,” Matta said. “But even as he has had this kind of funk, he has steadily improved his defense. The steal he had on the baseline (against Penn State) was a great play. He just has to put it all together. I couldn’t be happier for the way Tony played.”
Sullinger added, “Tony is the kind of guy that can turn it on at any second. Tony will get a steal and a layup and he thinks he’s on fire. You know that he always wants the ball. He thinks he can make plays.”
* The win improved Matta’s record to 12-1 all-time in conference tournaments and 25-6 all-time in the month of March.
* This will be the second time OSU and Wisconsin have met in the Big Ten tournament. Two years ago, OSU, playing as the eighth seed, upset top-seeded Wisconsin 58-50.
* Wisconsin is ranked 23rd nationally by The Associated Press. OSU was 2-3 against ranked teams this year. Matta is 11-12 in his career against ranked teams.
* OSU is 8-6 all-time in the Big Ten tournament. Wisconsin is 7-6 in the event, winning last year’s tournament title in Indianapolis.