March 9, 2007
CHICAGO (AP) - Alando Tucker was as invisible as a player of the year could be - his line in the first half was no baskets and three points. The biggest surprise of all - Wisconsin was still leading by 15.
When that lead began to evaporate in the second half Friday night against Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, Tucker found his range and led the Badgers to victory.
He hit four 3-pointers to cut off a Spartans' rally and finished with 21 points in No. 3 Wisconsin's 70-57 victory over Michigan State.
"I knew at that point in time that I had to step up," Tucker said. "We made some good calls, some good reads and that's the way the ball drops sometimes. I never try to force the issue, but everything just seems to fall into place."
Spartans leading scorer Drew Neitzel, averaging 18 points, also struggled early and for most of the game. He was scoreless in the first half and ended with 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting under tough pressure from Michael Flowers.
"Coach has been on me, trying to tell me to play disciplined defense," Flowers said. "That's what I did."
The Spartans (22-11), who played one of the league's toughest in-conference schedules, will learn Sunday whether they have earned a 10th straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
"I think this team has done its job. I'm tired of answering that question to be honest with you," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said.
"If they don't take this team for what we have done, who we played - the toughest schedule in this whole damn league - we'll go to the NIT. If they do think so, we'll go to the NCAA."
State scored the first seven points of the second half as part of an 11-2 run in which the Badgers were held without a basket for almost 7 minutes.
Tucker, who shot only 5-for-14, ended the drought with his first basket of the game, a 3-pointer with 12:48 to go. The Spartans' Raymar Morgan hit a jumper and then Marquise Gray made a steal, drove the length of the floor and dunked, cutting the Badgers' lead to 45-38.
During a timeout, the Badgers bench was assessed a technical foul and Neitzel hit two free throws for his first points of the game, and Wisconsin's lead was down to five.
Tucker and Neitzel exchanged 3-pointers - Neitzel's first basket of the game after missing his first seven shots. After an offensive foul on the Spartans, Tucker hit another 3 to give the Badgers some breathing room. The 6-foot-6 senior delivered again from beyond the arc as the shot clock was going off, putting the Badgers back up by 12 with about 5 minutes to play.
"I was taking what the defense was giving me," Tucker said.
Goran Suton led Michigan State with 14 points and Morgan, who fouled out with about 6 minutes to play, added 11. Wisconsin was 16-of-27 at the line to only 5-for-11 for the Spartans.
Izzo called the Spartans' foul troubles against the Badgers "a joke."
"I'm almost tired of talking about it - just like the NCAA. Nothing good will be said and nothing good will come out of my mouth and so I will look like a whiner and a crier," he said. "But they beat us and they played awfully well."
Kammron Taylor scored 11 for the Badgers.
Neitzel, who had 50 points in the two games against the Badgers during the regular season, was held scoreless in the first half, thanks to Flowers' tight defense.
"I thought Wisconsin did a good job of playing team defense," Neitzel said. "Anytime I was coming off a down screen, there was always somebody there. I thought that was their goal, try to get the ball out of my hands."
Though Tucker also struggled, the Badgers led by 15 at the half - thanks to the 10-0 opening run featuring eight points from Flowers, a late spurt sparked by reserves Joe Krabbenhoft and Greg Stiemsma, and 59 percent shooting.
"I wouldn't say I was struggling. My teammates, they were getting open. That's one of the things we've been making a conscious effort of all season," Tucker said.
Stiemsma tipped in a miss by Krabbenhoft at the first-half buzzer to give the Badgers the 15-point cushion.
Stiemsma also had a dunk on a pass from Tucker, and Krabbenhoft worked inside for a basket and hit a 3-pointer as Wisconsin made up for the absence of big man Brian Butch, sidelined by an elbow injury.
The teams had split two close games in the last 2 1/2 weeks. The Spartans beat the Badgers 64-55 at East Lansing when Wisconsin was ranked No. 1. The Badgers eked out a 52-50 win in the regular-season finale six days ago.