February 10, 1999
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The last time Wisconsin won 20 games in a season, the
Badgers won the NCAA championship. That was in 1941.
Coach Dick Bennett isn't predicting a repeat of history, but he doesn't deny
the significance of hitting the 20-win mark for just the third time in school
"It's big league ... that's the magic number," said Bennett, after the
15th-ranked Badgers' 57-45 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night.
"That's got to be big here. I don't see too many of those in the book."
Wisconsin (20-5, 8-4 Big Ten) finished with a flourish, scoring the last 15
points of the game to snap a two-game losing streak. The 20 victories tie the
school record set in 1915-16 and matched in 1940-41.
"That's something special and rare," Bennett said. "Last week I said I
didn't think we were in the (NCAA) tournament, so don't assume anything. I'll
admit I feel a little better about that now."
But No. 20 didn't come easy for the Badgers, who blew a 17-point second-half
lead in losing to Illinois on Saturday.
This time the Badgers frittered away a 14-point lead and trailed 45-42 after
a 3-pointer by Steve LePore with 6:55 remaining.
But that would be the last points the Wildcats (14-7, 6-5) would score, as
they missed their last eight shots and committed three turnovers down the
Ty Calderwood, who led Wisconsin with 13 points, scored eight of them down
the stretch. He ignited the rally with a steal and a layup to cut the
Northwestern lead to 45-44. Mark Vershaw then hit four straight free throws and
Calderwood hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Badgers ahead 51-45.
Wisconsin put the game away, hitting six of eight free throws.
"This was a ballgame we really needed and at that point of the game we
needed to lean on our defense," Calderwood said. "I think that stretch was by
far our best defense of the season."
The Badgers had 13 steals, three by Calderwood.
They also succeeded in containing center Evan Eschmeyer, who was held
without a field goal in the first half but still finished with 16 points, five
under his Big Ten average.
"I love playing against Evan," said Wisconsin's Charlie Wills, who shared
the defensive duties with Andy Kowske and Vershaw. "He always gives you a
great battle in there. We just tried to keep the ball out of his hands and he
didn't get a lot of touches the last six minutes, which really helped us pull
Northwestern shot just 15.8 percent in the first half (3-for-19) as
Wisconsin built a 25-16 lead.
The Badgers extended the lead to 30-16 in the first minute of the second
half on a dunk by Maurice Linton and a 3-pointer by Calderwood.
But Northwestern answered with a 24-8 run, taking its first lead of the
game, 40-38, on a jump hook by Eschmeyer.
"I was real happy with the way our team came back in the second half,"
Northwestern coach Kevin O'Neill said. "Wisconsin finished the game and they
deserved to win. Tonight we didn't finish.
"We have won a lot of close games, but it was not to be tonight.
Calderwood's 3-pointer in the corner really hurt us and then they did a good
job on the defensive end."