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UW men's basketball: Badgers silence critics, dump Weber State

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Freddie Owens was grimacing while he held his sprained right ankle near the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's free-throw line late in the first half. But his teammates looked in worse condition, almost in a state of shock, as they stood and watched Owens.

Everybody, that is, except Wisconsin senior Kirk Penney.

Penney gathered the Badgers in the hushed Spokane Arena and said, "It's cool. It's cool. There's always a way to win."

And then Penney went out and showed them how against Weber State in an NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional first-round game here Thursday night.

Penney fed freshman Boo Wade for a layup and Clayton Hanson for yet another, and then banked home a jumper to start an 8-0 run to close out the end of the half for the Badgers, who took a 41-26 lead at the break.

That sparked a fire that never went out for the fifth-seeded Badgers, who rolled to a convincing 81-74 victory over the No. 12 Wildcats. The UW next will play No. 13 seed Tulsa in a second-round game here Saturday at 4:50 p.m.

"That's how we played to win the Big Ten Conference," gushed UW coach Bo Ryan after the Badgers (23-7) ended the Wildcats' 17-game winning streak and earned a measure of respect in the process.

The Badgers, who set a school record for most wins in a season, were supposed to be the team waiting to be upset. All they heard was how the Big Sky Conference champion would turn the Big Ten regular-season champion on its ear behind the scoring prowess of senior guard Jermaine Boyette.

But it was the Badgers who frustrated the Wildcats (26-6) by shooting 53.4 percent during the entertaining game and getting a tremendous defensive effort on Boyette by Wade and Owens.

Penney led the Badgers with 21 points and nine rebounds while sophomore forward Mike Wilkinson added 15 and nine rebounds. Sophomore point guard Devin Harris had the best stat line of the night with 14 points, five assists, a career-high five steals, one block and no turnovers.

Junior forward Slobodan Ocokoljic led the Wildcats with 26 points. Boyette added 25, with 13 coming in the final three minutes during the Wildcats' last-ditch comeback attempt.

Freshman forward Alando Tucker, who had 11 points, recalled a moment earlier this week when he was watching ESPN with Penney and heard what seemed like a consensus of pundits pick Weber State to beat the Badgers.

"I told Kirk that if we want respect we have to earn it," Tucker said. "Me and Kirk looked at each other and from that moment on we knew what we had to do."

Penney enjoyed the last laugh. "Stick this, right?" he said jokingly.

"But that doesn't matter to us," he added. "We just want to continue to keep working and it will take care of itself."

The Badgers certainly came out with a sense of urgency that was lacking during their 58-50 first-round loss to Ohio State at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago last week.

The game opened at a torrid pace as the Badgers made 11 of their first 13 shots to open a 20-16 lead. "That was awesome," Penney said. "We were getting a little winded and I could tell they were. I felt it. It's great to be in a game like that with both teams just going at it."

The Badgers led 33-26 with 3:07 left in the half when Owens sprained his ankle after missing a shot and then stepping on someone's foot during the fight for the rebound. He returned to play in the second half.

Wilkinson said Penney was never better than during that 8-0 run that followed Owens' injury.

"He was the backbone out there for our team," Wilkinson said. "That's what you expect from a senior."

The Badgers countered every one of the Wildcats' runs in the second half and steadily increased their lead back to 66-51 with 6:44 to go. The only player who kept Weber State remotely close to the Badgers was Ocokoljic, who scored 19 second-half points.

Boyette, meantime, had just four points in the second half until the game was virtually out of reach.

"I knew after Freddie hurt his (foot) that I'd have to step up even harder because one of our best defenders was out," Wade said. "I was just doing the same thing Freddie was doing guarding him and that was slowing down his penetration."

Weber State, which had 22 offensive rebounds, made one last run and closed within five points in the final minute by fearlessly attacking the rim.

"That's the beauty of the NCAA Tournament, seeing all these seniors just working for everything," Penney said. "I knew that they had five, six seniors and I knew they'd be tough. And they were. It was great to see our young guys step up and assume a similar type of role."