A standard narrative has hovered over Wisconsin's basketball program for years based, in part, on worn ideas about overachieving while being under-athletic. So it wasn't a surprise that such talk once again permeated through the Honda Center before the Badgers' Sweet 16 matchup Thursday night against Baylor. This Baylor team had a 7-foot-1 center, Isaiah Austin, who'd tallied as many blocked shots as Wisconsin's entire team. The Bears also had a 6-8, 270-pound forward, Rico Gathers, who looked more like an NFL tight end. And he only came off the bench. Couple the personnel with Baylor's recent run of success, and . . . you know where this is headed. "Our team kind of fails that eye test, if you know what I mean," Badgers center Frank Kaminsky said. "You look at our team and you look at their team on the court, no knowledge of anything before, who do you think they're going to pick? They're going to say the tall, athletic guys are probably going to win this one." But what makes this Wisconsin team different, what separates it from the so-called mold of past Badgers teams, is that any preconceived barriers about height, talent or quickness are irrelevant. This year's team possesses all the traits necessary to achieve something special in March -- and perhaps even April. For further proof, see the result from Thursday night, when No. 2 seed Wisconsin obliterated No. 6 seed Baylor, 69-52, inside the Honda Center in an NCAA tournament West Region game that was never really close. Wisconsin, which advanced to its first Elite Eight appearance since 2005, will play No. 1 seed Arizona on Saturday with a Final Four berth on the line. Just four days earlier, Baylor destroyed Creighton in the third round by 30 points with a tenacious 1-3-1 zone defense, and the Bears appeared headed for a deep run in the tournament. With point guard Kenny Chery back after a turf toe injury, Baylor had won 11 of 13 games. "They had some impressive games as of late, just blowing some teams out of the water," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "They're one of the hottest teams. Everyone was saying you don't want to match up with Baylor. But we're the type of team that wants to play the good teams. We're not going to back down from them. "When you can have that mentality that you're coming in as the better team and you're confident, we're not going to back down from these guys, it makes it much easier. We have a group that together has a collective toughness to it. We were able to do that tonight." Wisconsin's efficient offensive onslaught began less than two minutes in, when Kaminsky scored twice in the post on his way to a monster game (19 points, six blocks) to give Wisconsin the edge for good. Baylor led for all of 20 seconds before the wheels slowly fell off. Wisconsin used extreme patience against Baylor's 1-3-1 zone, working the ball around the perimeter, inside the lane and out. The Badgers put on a clinic in the art of pump fakes, shot fakes and ball movement to grind the Bears' defense into a messy pulp. "The middle was wide open the whole game," Badgers guard Bronson Koenig said. In fact, Wisconsin so thoroughly dominated Baylor that the Bears were forced to ditch their zone defense in favor of man to man. The move did little to stop Wisconsin. Badgers coach Bo Ryan, a man who has prided himself over the years on focusing on the basics, did not change a thing about his team's preparation. Wisconsin used the same techniques and also demonstrated its surprising (to some) athleticism and quickness on defense. "We knew nobody makes more ball fakes and pump fakes than Wisconsin," Ryan said. "It's just something that the high school teams I coached, we did it then. We did it in Platteville. We did it in Milwaukee, and we do it in Wisconsin. Shot fakes, ball fakes work. Having played quarterback, pump fakes work. It's not that hard, and yet it's amazing how many people do not use them."
Wisconsin dominates Baylor with confidence, mental toughness
Fox Sports Wisconsin | Mar 28