Seniors hope to leave bigger shoes to fillThe last time the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team advanced to the second week of the NCAA tournament
By: By JESSE OSBORNE/Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Telegram
The last time the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team advanced to the second week of the NCAA tournament — 2005 — Brian Butch, Michael Flowers and Greg Stiemsma were freshmen, and bit players for the Badgers.
When sixth-ranked and third-seeded UW (31-4) takes the court at 6:10 p.m. Friday against 10th-seeded Davidson in a Midwest Regional semifinal at Ford Field in Detroit, that trio — now seniors — finds itself front and center in helping lead the Badgers back to that point of the postseason.
“I know our contributions are way different now than they were then,” Flowers said after UW’s 72-55 victory over Kansas State Saturday at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Neb.
The 6-foot-11 Butch, who averaged 3.6 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9.7 minutes per game as a freshman, is the Badgers’ leading scorer (12.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.7) this season, and he earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Flowers, who averaged 1.2 points an 1.6 rebounds in 9 minutes per game his first year, is averaging a career-best 9.5 points per game. In addition, the 6-2 Flowers, who scored 15 points against Kansas State, leads the Badgers in assists (95) and averages a team-high 31.4 minutes per game.
And the 6-11 Stiemsma, who played a total of 27 minutes as a freshman, is playing the best basketball of his career over the past few weeks, something highlighted by his career-high 14 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes against Kansas State.
“It’s great to be back and to be such big parts of it,” Butch said. “It’s up to us to make sure that we stay focused. We realize what’s at stake, we realize we’ve got a pretty good team and that we can go pretty far.”
After a first-round NCAA tournament exit in 2006, and a second-round loss last season, UW advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third time in coach Bo Ryan’s seven seasons.
“Just to get over that hump is a great feeling,” junior forward Marcus Landry said. “We’re already over the hump, but we still have to go down the hill. We have a lot more to do. I don’t think anyone is going to be satisfied until we get to where we want to be.”
If the Badgers are to advance to the Elite Eight, as they did in 2005, they will be required to get past Davidson (28-6), a team that extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 24 games with a 74-70 victory over second-seeded Georgetown on Sunday.
“I think we can compete with anybody. We’ve seen bigger guys, we’ve seen smaller guys and we’ve seen quick guys,” Landry said. “The fact that we’ve seen those styles lets us know we can compete.”
And the fact the Badgers are one of 16 teams left competing is something Ryan and his players — especially the winningest senior class in program history — are savoring.
“(After the Kansas State game Ryan said) he’s proud of us and he wants more time with us,” Landry said.
“He’s not ready to be done, and neither are we.”
Said Butch: “It’s going to be good. We’re looking forward to it. We’re excited to get there, but we realize we’ve got some work we’ve got to do. By no means are we done, we want to play for a while yet.”
— Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune