Wisconsin, Ole Miss bring clashing styles to NCAA
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — It's not exactly the tortoise and the hare, this second-round NCAA matchup between flamboyant Mississippi and wary Wisconsin.
After all, the 12th-seeded Rebels (26-8) have been known to stop for breath every once in a while and play some half-court offense while averaging nearly 80 points. And the button-downed Badgers (23-11) did score 87 once.
Once. But that was before Thanksgiving and against little Presbyterian. Coach Bo Ryan and his fifth-seeded squad are better known for the deliberate style and lock-down defense they've so proudly cultivated over the years.
In typical Ryan fashion, the Badgers allowed an average of only 56 points a game. Never once all season did those push-it-up-the-floor Rebels score fewer than 62.
"I can't remember another team playing (like Wisconsin)," said Ole Miss guard Nick Williams. "We've thought about it. But, I mean, they have to play our style, too. I feel like it's overblown a little bit."
Badger forward Mike Bruesewitz thinks it's way overblown and points to last year's NCAA champion Kentucky team as proof.
"You looked at all the athletes, the great players they had on the team, they only averaged four more possessions a game than we did," he said. "You can say what you want about us being slow. But we're not the only team that looks to score in the half-court."
When someone suggested the Badgers might play smart instead of slow, Ryan did not argue.
"I hope we play smart," Ryan said. "Because I'm not very smart. It's kind of hard. I have to do things a little bit differently based on what I've been given. But I like the way our guys play. We try to get good shots. I don't know what you mean by 'smart,' but that's what we're trying to do. Then defensively, we're trying to keep people from scoring."
The Badgers do that well. Navigating the rugged Big Ten, they've led the NCAA in scoring defense twice in the past five years. In 15 of 21 games in a conference that sent seven teams to the NCAA tournament, they held their opponent below 60 points.
Offensively, they spread the ball around. Eight different players led the Badgers in scoring in at least one game this year. But in only five conference games did they score in the 70s.
"They're not going to beat themselves," said Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, who led the Southeastern Conference in points scored and led the nation in headlines generated. "We have to be patient, especially on defense. They're going to work the ball around, they're not going to do anything outside themselves. We play chaotic. They're not going to do that."
Stopping Henderson — or at least slowing him down — will be the priority for Wisconsin's rock-ribbed defense. The 6-2 junior averaged a shade better than 20 points a game and was third nationally with 131 3-pointers made. Hitting 88 percent, Henderson also led the SEC in free throw accuracy.
"He's capable of making any shot," said Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren, who leads the Badgers with 11.5 points and 7.1 rebounds. "I think our shot selection is going to be a little different on our team, just the way we move the ball and play as a team."
The high-energy Marshall is even better known for antics such as taunting Auburn fans after he hit the game-winning free throw and tossing ice back into the Ole Miss student section after the Rebels lost to Kentucky.
Andy Kennedy, making his first NCAA appearance as the Ole Miss coach, has learned to live with his freewheeling, controversial and high-scoring guard.
"It's like watching NASCAR, waiting for the wreck," Kennedy said. "His teammates accept it for what it is because they know it's genuine. It comes from a real place. It comes from a love of the game."
In experience, the Badgers hold a huge edge. They've been to the NCAA tournament 15 years in a row, one of the top five current streaks in the nation. The Rebels, who beat Florida in the finals of the SEC tournament after being picked 12th in the conference preseason poll, are making their first NCAA appearance since 2002.
"What we've got to do is we've got to do the things that have allowed us to be here," said Kennedy. "Having won 26 games throughout the course of the regular season, we have to play the basketball that has allowed us to be here."
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