INDIANAPOLIS -- He didn’t credit his lucky socks or a favorite pregame meal. He didn’t quote Confucius or Oprah. He didn’t recall reading a horoscope or opening a fortune cookie that predicted his performance.
He didn’t know exactly how it’d happened.
Rob Wilson just felt it and he didn’t know why.
The senior’s 30-point explosion in Wisconsin’s 79-71 win over Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, which included a 7-for-10 clip from the 3-point line, belied reason.
A fourth-year guard who’d never scored more than 13 points. A player who’d accrued 21 points combined in three previous games. A senior who’s averaging 3.1 ppg this season played the role of Mr. Clutch for Wisconsin Friday and recorded a career-high.
“Every game, I feel like, can be a good game for me. Today was just one of those days,” Wilson told ESPN.com.
It wasn’t just what Wilson did. It’s also when he did it.
A layup with 2 minutes, 30 seconds to go extended Wisconsin’s lead to 67-62. A 3-pointer with 38 seconds to play gave the Badgers a 72-65 advantage and a shot at Michigan State in Saturday’s semifinals.
Whenever the Badgers were desperate for a bucket, Wilson gave them one.
The Hoosiers kept the game close after the Badgers took an 11-point lead in the first half. They’d cut that edge to five points by halftime.
The Hoosiers played with a heavy heart after Verdell Jones was diagnosed with a torn ACL Friday morning, an injury he suffered in the first half of Thursday’s victory over Penn State. Wisconsin had trouble pulling away from a Hoosiers squad that was fueled by what sounded like a home crowd in Indianapolis.
The Badgers had to rely on Wilson.
“It seemed like every time we needed a shot, every time they were making a run back at us and chipping away at our lead, we found Rob open somewhere and he was putting up shots and knocking them down,” said Wisconsin center Jared Berggren, who scored 16 points.
As he walked off the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Wisconsin fans cheered Wilson’s name. One middle-aged man reached down and smacked him on the back. The entire experience seemed foreign to Wilson.
“I don't recall having … I mean the weight of the ball felt like it was going in today. I don't remember that feeling in a long time. I don't know the last time I've been in the interview room,” Wilson said in the postgame press conference.
His teammates enjoyed the moment as much as he did. Jordan Taylor, one of his best friends on the team, said he “felt like I had 30.”
Others said Wilson was in such a zone that that they were surprised when he missed.
“I actually remember the two shots he did miss. The one on the wing, and the fast break. … He also air-balled one,” said Mike Bruesewitz. “He had it going tonight. We found him early, we found him often.”
Wilson had never enjoyed the spotlight that found him in Indianapolis.
In the locker room, Wilson couldn’t get settled because teammates, coaches and other team personnel wanted to personally congratulate him for his achievement. That celebration came after reporters crowded around him in a corner 15 minutes.
But Wilson did not make the game bigger than it was. He scored 30 points because he believed he could score 30 points, he said. He’d worked hard like a multitude of college basketball players. And he’d always prepared for the opportunity even as his minutes dwindled throughout his career.
He did not, however, offer the kind of backstory that can exaggerate similar moments.
Wilson got hot at the right time.
And for the Badgers, their coaches and Wilson’s teammates, no other explanation is necessary.
“You always want to go out with a bang, but it's that time of the year when every team in the country steps it up and every player steps it up because it's tournament time,” he said. “So that's what I did, stepped up as a senior's supposed to.”