No matter how far the Indiana Hoosiers ascend up the national rankings, they just cannot overcome the Wisconsin Badgers.
Behind a stalwart defensive attack and some slick team-wide shooting, Wisconsin once again defeated Indiana, 68-56, to advance to the Big Ten conference final game on Saturday.
The Badgers' victory was their 12th straight over the Hoosiers and their second of the season over the Big Ten regular-season champs. They will face the winner of Saturday's second semifinal between Michigan State and Ohio State for a shot at Bo Ryan's third Big Ten conference title.
Forward Ryan Evans led the way with 16 points and eight rebounds for the Badgers, who shot 51 percent overall as a team. Leading scorer Ben Brust also chipped in 12 points, and Sam Dekker came off the bench to score nine of his 11 points in the second half.
Meanwhile, Indiana never quite got it together on the offensive end. The Hoosiers shot just 38.2 percent as a team, as both Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller struggled from the field.
Oladipo played his trademark hustle defense but shot only 4-of-12 from the field en route to 10 points. Zeller had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds but could not get it going with his shot—especially in the first half.
Instead, the first half belonged to Evans.
Just one day after playing a fantastic all-around game against Michigan, Evans was at it again in the first half. He got involved in the offense instantly, scoring Wisconsin's first bucket and setting a tone that would follow for the next 20 minutes.
Hitting jumpers, dropping in layups and making the occasional wretched decision, Evans was in arguably the best form of the season en route to scoring 10 points and five rebounds in the opening frame.
Wisconsin utilized Evans' early excellence and its trademark defensive tenacity to frustrate the Hoosiers. Collapsing on the interior, Zeller did not make his first field goal of the game until just under four minutes remaining in the first half, and Will Sheehey went radio silent after making his first shot of the contest.
While Oladipo and Christian Watford tried to pick up the slack, Indiana couldn't quite keep up in the first half. The Badgers stretched their lead to as many as eight points and took a 34-31 advantage into the break.
Following halftime, these two sides stayed close. Though pacing continued to favor the Badgers, Zeller got hot for a short period, and the Hoosiers even took a lead at 41-40 midway through the second half.
However, momentum quickly shifted back in Wisconsin's favor after a quick seven-point single-handed run from Dekker. The freshman knocked down two shots near the basket and a three-pointer to put the Badgers back ahead at 50-43, giving them a lead they would never relinquish.
While Indiana is still likely a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, it may now have to travel outside the coveted Midwest Region. As for Wisconsin, its Dance ticket was cashed a long time ago—but now the Badgers are showing they once again could be a force in March.
Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star notes the sentiment of many Hoosiers fans in saying they do not want to see Wisconsin in their region on Selection Sunday:
Bob Kravitz @bkravitz
Is it fair to say IU fans would rather not see Wisconsin in their NCAA region? I'd say that's fair. Give them fits.2013-3-16 18:49:28
Following a critical second-half run spurred by Zeller, Indiana coach Tom Crean took the young center out for a breather. With one hashtag, Grantland's Mark Titus gives his opinion on that move:
Mark Titus @clubtrillion
#Crean RT @CrimsonCast So wait, you go on a run keyed by Zeller AND YOU TAKE ZELLER OUT?! @clubtrillion, please explain this to me...2013-3-16 19:12:28
CBS Sports' Doug Gottlieb noticed how frustrated the Hoosiers were when taking on Wisconsin in half-court sets:
Doug Gottlieb @GottliebShow
IU looks unable to get anything done vs UW half court D--Oladipo is trailing the offense looking to catch Evans running out at him2013-3-16 18:54:21
Hustle is never a problem with either of these teams, and that wasn't going to change with a spot at the Big Ten title game on the line. Matt Kryger of the Indianapolis Star sent out a fantastic still frame of Oladipo and Mike Bruesewitz chasing after a loose ball:
Matt Kryger @MattKryger
Indiana's Victor Oladipo chases after a loose ball with Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz. @indystar #IUBB #Hoosiers http://t.co/660X0qsVnK2013-3-16 18:38:16
Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com usually sticks to the pigskin, but he took time out to give his respect to Wisconsin's program as a whole.
Daniel Jeremiah @MoveTheSticks
Lot of respect for Wisconsin hoops. Sum is always greater than their parts2013-3-16 19:38:58
Based on the last 12 results of their contests, it's pretty apparent that the Hoosiers likely have a healthy respect for the Badgers as well.