<
>

Wisconsin gets swagger back, Flyers fall

SPOKANE, Wash. -- It was a first-round game that had upset written all over it.

Weber State, as a No. 12 seed, entered its Midwest Region game with a 17-game winning streak -- the second longest in the nation. Wisconsin, as a No. 5 seed, entered the tournament humbled by going into the Big Ten tournament as the top seed and losing in the quarterfinals.

But Wisconsin got its swagger back Thursday night with an 81-74 win, to advance to Saturday's Midwest Region's second round. The Badgers will face No. 13 seed Tulsa, an 84-71 winner over No. 4 seed Dayton in what -- despite the seedings -- could only be described as a mild upset.

Wisconsin, losers to eventual NCAA champs Maryland in the second round last year, avenged a loss to Weber State last season (semifinals of the Big Island Invitational in Hawaii) to advance to Saturday's game.

"It's all a part of the maturation process," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Everybody knows that time together builds relationships. Our time together has helped us."

As is typical for a team that had four players average in double figures this season, the Badgers won with a balanced attack. Kirk Penney, the senior guard from New Zealand who was just one of 10 from the field in last season's loss to Weber State, scored 21 points while playing the entire game.

Wisconsin, the outright winner of the Big Ten regular season title for the first time since 1947, led most of the first half -- ending the half with a 9-0 run that gave the Badgers a 41-26 halftime lead.

Behind the hot hand of Weber State forward Slobodan Ocokoljic (26 points -- 19 in the second half) and guard Jermaine Boyette (25 points -- 17 in the second half), Weber State was able to stay within striking distance. But they could never get closer than six points in losing for the first time since Jan. 3 at Utah.

"We were able to beat a pretty good team," Ryan said. "That's a pretty good 12 seed over there."

And that was a pretty good recovery by a Wisconsin team that appeared solid before being embarrassed by No. 8 seed Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament.

"We knew coming from the Ohio State game that we didn't play well," said Wisconsin forward Mike Wilkinson, who had 15 points and nine rebounds. "All week we wanted to get back on the court and show we could play better than we did in that game."

The big concern for the Badgers now is the health of Owens, whose status for Saturday is in doubt despite the fact that he was able to play nine minutes in the second half against Weber State. Owens averaged 10.8 points while starting all 29 games this season.

"It's not like the days where you told a guy 'suck it up for the team and play,'" Ryan said. "We'll see what happens. It's all about what the trainer tells me."

In the final game in Spokane, Tulsa shot 66.7 percent in the first half and a season-high 57.9 percent for the game in its win over the Atlantic 10 champs. Guards Dante Swanson and Jason Parker each scored 24 points as Tulsa had four starters in double figures.

"We felt good," Parker said of his team's hot start. "We were in a good rhythm and the shots were falling."

The Golden Hurricane needed the hot start as Dayton came storming back in the second half, tying the game at 67 on a 3-pointer by Brooks Hall with 5:15 left.

But, whatever chance Dayton had of getting back into the game was doomed by a controversial call. Trailing 72-69 with 2:04 left, Dayton center Sean Finn appeared to slam home a missed layup attempt by Hall. But an official called basket interference despite replays that showed the ball had fallen away from the cylinder.

"I got knocked to the floor, and I saw Sean put the ball in," Hall said. "That call changed the complexion of the game."

Dayton never recovered, scoring just two points the rest of the way.

With Tulsa's win, John Phillips became just the second coach in school history to reach 50 wins in his first two seasons (his record is 50-16 -- Nolan Richardson was 50-13). A year after a five-point loss to Kentucky in the East Regional, Tulsa looks to reach the Sweet 16 for the second time in four years.

"They're the Big Ten champs -- they're strong and physical," Phillips said of Wisconsin. "It's going to be a tough match up for us."

Jerry Bembry is General Editor at ESPN The Magazine