Badgers clinch share of Big Ten titleMADISON — He stood beaming on a crowded court, celebrating as students chanted his nickname.
By: By CHRIS JENKINS/AP Sports Writer, The Daily Telegram
MADISON — He stood beaming on a crowded court, celebrating as students chanted his nickname.
‘‘Po-lar bear! Po-lar bear!’’
Brian Butch hasn’t always had it this good in his time at Wisconsin.
The up-and-down details of Butch’s collegiate career didn’t matter much Wednesday night when he helped the 10th-ranked Badgers trounce Penn State 77-41 to claim at least a share of the Big Ten title.
Playing in his final home game, the senior had 12 points and five rebounds — a typical rock-solid night for a team that lacks stars but somehow manages to keep winning.
‘‘It’s absolutely awesome, point-blank,’’ Butch said. ‘‘It’s all you can say.’’
It is the third time in seven seasons the Badgers (25-4, 15-2) have claimed at least a share of the conference title under coach Bo Ryan — and this one was perhaps the least likely of them.
The Badgers finish the regular season at Northwestern on Saturday and a victory would give them the outright championship.
‘‘You know, it’s a great feeling to see this group come together the way they did,’’ Ryan said. ‘‘Everybody probably thinks it’s easy when you look from the outside.’’
Not much was expected of Wisconsin coming into the season. The Badgers had lost stars Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor, and it was unclear just where the missing points would come from.
But sophomore guard Trevon Hughes proved he could be counted on to score, Butch had a solid season and the Badgers used their size advantage and discipline to play stifling defense.
‘‘I think it still kind of seems surreal,’’ said Greg Stiemsma, who scored 10 points. ‘‘To go out like we did, to achieve what we did tonight, I think it’s really special. It’s one of those things where it doesn’t seem like it should happen. I don’t know if it’s fate or whatever it is, but things fell into place for us.’’
Butch has struggled at times to live up to the promise of his status as a prized recruit, and never became a star in the traditional sense. But the Badgers realized his value when he was injured at the end of last season, severely disrupting that highly ranked team’s chemistry.
Butch’s steady presence was an even bigger deal this season, as he played a more prominent role without Tucker and Taylor.
‘‘You know, we had a great year last year, but we didn’t have anything to show for it,’’ Butch said. ‘‘I’ve been saying that the last couple weeks — this year, at least we have something to show for it so far. And we’ve got a lot of basketball ahead of us, too.’’
Marcus Landry scored 15 points for Wisconsin, which entered Wednesday leading the nation in scoring defense, giving up an average of 54.9 points per game. The Badgers held Penn State (14-15, 6-11) to 7-for-27 shooting in the first half and 29.6 percent for the game.
‘‘We just couldn’t make a shot, and we couldn’t guard them in the second half,’’ Penn State coach Ed DeChellis said. ‘‘They just went inside and our young kids, we couldn’t match up inside. We’re just not big enough, we’re not strong enough. They went in and took it right at us.’’
Wisconsin held Penn State scoreless for a 5:21 stretch late in the first half, going on an 8-0 run to take a 27-12 lead on a 3-pointer by Michael Flowers.
Wisconsin led 34-17 at halftime, then opened the second half with an 8-1 run, taking a 42-18 lead on a driving layup by Hughes.
Talor Battle scored 10 points to lead the Nittany Lions, who were playing without leading scorer Jamelle Cornley.
His replacement, Jeff Brooks, picked up three fouls in the first half.
‘‘We just aren’t very good in there right now,’’ DeChellis said of his team’s post play. ‘‘We left our best post player home.’’
Tanner Bronson, a 5-foot-11 senior walk-on who has become a fan favorite, got into the game with 4:51 remaining and the Badgers leading by 40 points. He hit a 3-pointer with 2:29 left, eliciting a standing ovation.
‘‘I just do what I can, I guess,’’ Bronson said, in a short postgame speech to the crowd.