ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (Ticker) -- Louisiana State found out first hand that Wisconsin can play defense.
Relying on its smothering defense and efficient offense, Wisconsin continued its improbable run through the NCAA Tournament and reached the West Region final with a 61-48 victory over LSU.
The eighth-seeded Badgers completely took LSU out of its up-tempo style throughout and took control with an 11-0 run over the final 5:03 of the first half that opened a 22-14 advantage. The Tigers committed 14 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes and 23 for the game.
Wisconsin (21-13) finished the regular season ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense and once again lived up to that billing tonight, holding the Tigers to their lowest point total of the season and more than 27 points below their season average.
"We shook a lot of balls loose and there wasn't many open shots," Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said. "It's as active as we've been. They don't set a lot of screens and I think that helped. They wanted to break us down individually and for us that was easier to play against." Playing in the "Sweet 16" for the first time in school history, the Badgers have long since erased the memory of last season's embarrassing 43-32 loss to Southwest Missouri in the first round and will meet No. 6 Purdue in an all Big Ten regional final on Saturday.
Wisconsin went 2-1 against Purdue this season, including a victory in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
LSU, the fourth seed, had a remarkable turnaround and finished the season with a 28-6 record. Last season, the Tigers went just 12-15.
Facing a constant double-team, Tigers big man Stromile Swift scored 12 points but went just 3-of-5 from the field. He also committed three turnovers.
Both teams struggled for much of the first half from the floor and LSU was in front, 14-11, with 5:03 left before intermission on 1-of-2 free throws by Lamont Roland. After those free throws, it was all downhill for the Tigers.
Jon Bryant sank a 3-pointer and Mark Versaw a layup to put the Badgers ahead for good, 16-14, with 4:07 left in the half. Bryant made a layup and Mike Kelley and Julian Swartz had baskets before the break to open an eight-point lead.
But it was the swarming defense of the Badgers that was the story. LSU made just 5-of-15 shots in the half and was never able to recover. The Tigers shot 36 percent (17-of-47) overall.
Kelley, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, locked up LSU freshman point guard Torris Bright the entire night. Bright finished with just four points on 1-of-7 shooting and had five turnovers.
"I just credit the system we have and my teammates," said Kelley, who had five of the Badgers' 11 steals. "Sometimes I get praised for what I do but it's a five-man defense. Other guys do what they have to do and I think it wears on teams." "They had a freshman point guard and we've been able to capitalize on that," Bennett said. "If you look at the teams that have given us fits, it's been veteran point guards. They force us to over help and we didnt have to do that today." The second half began like the first ended, with the Badgers forcing LSU into costly turnovers and taking advantage on the offensive end.
Still leading 26-18 with 17:16 remaining, the Badgers used a 12-1 spurt that Bryant capped with a layup that provided a commanding 38-19 cushion with 12:20 to go. Bryant scored 16 points on 6-of-14 shooting and was the only Badger to score in double figures.
"It was real important for us to get a lead, especially against a team like LSU," Bryant said. "I think it frustrated them. I think it is key for us to get a lead and go from there." LSU did try to get back into it and answered with a 10-2 surge to close to 40-29 with 9:23 left on a 3-pointer by Smith, who was the only other Tiger in double figures with 12 points.
However, the deficit proved to be too much too overcome. Bryant drilled a jumper, Vershaw a 3-pointer and Charlie Wills had a basket that pushed the advantage to 47-29 with 7:13 to go. The Tigers got no closer than 11 points thereafter.
Linton and Andy Kowske added eight points apiece for Wisconsin, which shot 38 percent (21-of-55).