Wisconsin hangs on to beat Iowa in a long, hard-fought nail biter

By Ian Gold

The final thirty seconds of Saturday’s contest between Wisconsin and Iowa is why people have changed the month that used to go in like a lion and out like a lamb to March Madness. Wisconsin was going to win, then it was overtime, then it went to the booth, and finally referee Ed Hightower concurred that Wisconsin forward Alando Tucker’s shot counted; Badgers win 59-56.

“You have to be able to put yourselves in position to make a shot like that,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said.

He was referring to his team hanging tough with an upstart Iowa team while its captain Mike Wilkinson sat on the bench with foul trouble. Wilkinson played only 24 minutes of the game and didn’t hit double digits in scoring. So while he was cheerleading, the Badgers turned to Friday’s star Zach Morley and the eventual star of Saturday, Tucker.

With Wilkinson out of the game, Iowa played inside-outside: its junior bull Greg Brunner was rough inside, scoring 18 points and opening up things for guards Jeff Horner and Adam Haluska, who finished with 12 and 10 points respectively. The teams fought evenly to 54-54 until the second half was coming to an end.

With all eyes on Tucker, and Wilkinson back on the court, Tucker got the ball at the top of the key and drove down the lane. When he was halted he controversially traveled out of trouble and found Wilkinson wide open in the corner. Wilkinson buried the shot directly in front of his fiancee in the pep band and sprinted down the court to defend Iowa’s final possession.

“He made a great catch and hit the big shot, which was even bigger,” Tucker said about Wilkinson.

Iowa head coach Steve Alford called a timeout and designed a play that almost worked, and then did in its own way. Horner drove to the baseline and then whipped a pass into the corner to Haluska, who just missed a 3-pointer, only for Brunner to get the ball while slipping out of the cylinder and put it back in for a 56-56 tie.

When Tucker inbounded the ball, 3.7 secconds remained on the clock. Tucker, who claims he had practiced this shot numerous times, sprinted down the court and jumped looking for contact. While in mid-air he let the ball go towards the rim and carried his team to the next round of the tournament.

“Zach made a great pass and I was able to find time to put up a shot; I called backboard,” Tucker said.