Badgered: Wisconsin tightens D in NCAA run

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin has been badgering opponents during its run to the Final Four.

The talk at the start of the season was all about the new emphasis on rules to prevent college basketball from turning into virtual hand-to-hand combat. The goals: Limit the pushing, grabbing and arm-barring. Improve scoring, shooting percentages and the overall flow of the game.

One team, at least, didn’t have to adjust much, if at all.

Advantage, Wisconsin.

Changing defense was one less thing the Badgers (30-7) had to worry about during an already memorable season that has Wisconsin facing Kentucky (28-10) in the Final Four on Saturday.

“The thing about valuing the basketball, playing good position defense, trying not to give up easy baskets, doing all the things that we’re trying to do … I just think that our guys have shown that they’ve been pretty consistent with the basics,” coach Bo Ryan said.

There are more offensive options on the floor than the typical Badgers team, which has helped compensate for a defense that at times didn’t measure up to the program’s high standards. This year, Wisconsin is 37th in the NCAA in allowing 63.7 points per game - pretty good, but still out of the top 10 for the first time since 2005-6.

But the Badgers have tightened up in the tournament, allowing 56.8 points per game, eight less than in games played before March Madness began. The spread is similar in field-goal defense with foes shooting 37 percent in the tourney compared to 43 percent before the NCAAs. Opponents’ 3-point shooting in the tourney is 31 percent, down from 34 percent.

It helps to have 7-foot center Frank Kaminsky protecting the rim. Against Baylor in the regional semifinals, Kaminsky had six blocks.

Wisconsin’s style of play under Ryan “is so unique,” said Patrick Chambers, coach at Big Ten rival Penn State. “He does such a good job of playing hard without fouling, funnel you into Kaminsky.”

Like any good coach still in the hunt, Ryan will just as easily point to things to improve. The new rules emphasis, though, probably wasn’t on high on the list.

“We haven’t been a ‘handsy’ team in the past, so we just need to keep working on our positioning and our footwork,” Ryan said in December. Back then, defense was a work in progress, but more for those reasons outlined by Ryan than for the rules.

“You’ve just got to learn from it. You’ve got to kind of figure out how things are being called throughout the game,” said Josh Gasser, one of the Big Ten’s top defensive players. “As the season’s gone on, you don’t really think about it at all. It’s just kind of part of the game.”

But opponents were adjusting their games, too, on top of dealing with the rules emphasis. Chambers said that high mid-major teams, especially, had to adjust.

Defensively, Wisconsin “didn’t have to change anything” Chambers said. “Most of us, I’ll say, had to.”

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