Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mid-Major Team of the Week -- Panthers Crush Butler

Tonight's Mid-Major Team of the Week is a team that nobody in the state of Wisconsin is talking about, the Milwaukee Panthers. They improved to 8-8 on the season, which does not sound like news, except they did so by beating the Butler Bulldogs 76-52 on Monday night at the US Cellular Arena. It was a signature win for a program that is looking to get itself back into the spotlight and a shot to those (myself included) that have been leading the anti-Rob Jeter bandwagon at UWM. The crowd at 'The Cell' tonight was far from a sellout, but there was a lot of energy in the building once we all realized that what was actually happening.

Butler's game plan was to hedge hard on ball screens with their bigs, no matter where they were on the floor, which sometimes was 10-15 feet beyond the 3-point arc, and hope that the UWM guards would turn the ball over trying to get out of the double team, or force them to make 3's. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Panthers were up to the challenge, shooting 11-20 from 3-point land (and that included 3 late misses in the 2nd half). Butler's decision to double the ball that far from the basket, forced them into situations where their bigs were not able to find their man behind them and rotate back when the ball came out of the double team, and you cannot leave shooters like Tone Boyle with too many open looks.

UWM took an 8-point lead into halftime, and it was clear that many people in the crowd were waiting for the other shoe to drop and have either the 'Real Butler' or the 'Real UWM' teams to show up, except nobody told UWM that they were supposed to roll over. Andrew Smith threw down an alley-oop to start the second half for Butler, but Tony Meier (pictured left) answered with 3 of his 20 points on the night and got the crowd going. The Bulldogs then got into some real trouble when forward Matt Howard committed 3 fouls in the first 3 minutes of the second stanza. With Howard on the bench in foul trouble, UWM took advantage by immediately going inside to Anthony Hill who led all scorers with 22 points, and survived a scary turned ankle. THe law of averages then told us that the Panthers would cool off and the came would get close again, but Milwaukee just kept getting open looks, and kept making shots. After the first media timeout, UWM outhustled and outrebounded Butler on a 15-2 run over a 7 minute stretch while extending thier lead to 18 points, and never looked back.

The dagger came with just under 6 minutes remaining, when Kaylon Williams, being guarded by Howard, crossed the ball between his legs and shook his shoulders like he was in an And 1 video, only to spot up right in front of Howard and drill a 3 to extend the UWM lead to 23 and notch his 10th point of the night to complete the first Panther triple-double since 1993. It was the first time in a long time, that I've seen a little swagger from a UWM team, and the fans at The Cell jump to their feet to celebrate a big win. They may not be destined for greatness this year, but let's hope that this is the program turning the corner. Robbie J bought himself some more time in my book with this win, because he flat-out, out-coached Brad Stevens tonight. And with new athletic director Rick Costello on the scene, maybe this can be a spark to ignite a fire, and hopefully people will put UWM Basketball back on their radar.



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