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YEAR OF THE BADGER
After his Indiana Hoosiers escaped from Madison with a 61-58 overtime win on Thursday night, coach Bob Knight grudgingly tipped his hat to Wisconsin, saying the Badgers "are awfully close to being a good basketball team." Only two days later they made Knight look prophetic with a 71-68 homecourt victory over suddenly struggling Michigan, a preseason Big Ten favorite.
The Badgers, now 10-5 and 2-4 in the conference, were led by Trent Jackson's 21 points, but the big plays at the end were made by Tim Locum. After Michigan's Rumeal Robinson missed a second straight foul shot with nine seconds remaining and the Badgers clinging to a 69-68 lead. Locum ripped the rebound away from Michigan's Terry Mills, and then was fouled by Robinson.
As soon as time expired, many of the 11,174 fans went onto the floor to join the celebration led by Badger forward-guard Willie Simms, a Michigan native who jumped on the scorer's table to wave a towel. "This is a huge win for us," said Wisconsin coach Steve Yoder.
In other Big Ten developments, Knight got his 400th win at Indiana, extending his conference record, when the Hoosiers defeated Michigan State 75-60, and Ohio State whipped Iowa 102-91 after a pregame pep talk from alumnus Jack Nicklaus. When the golfing immortal promised to help coach Gary Williams with his short game, he was talking about irons, not six-foot guard Jay Burson.
HARD TIMES IN DIXIE
There is a feeling throughout the Southeastern Conference that the league is the weakest it has been since the days when its basketball teams were coached by moonlighting assistant football coaches. No one in the SEC looks even remotely like a national championship contender. As if to prove the point, the worst Kentucky team in years took a losing record (8-9) into Knoxville for a game with SEC leader Tennessee but came away with a 66-65 victory before a league-record crowd of 24,464.
Tennessee brought a 12-2 record, including a 5-0 mark in conference play, into Saturday's game. Yet despite having five senior starters and the greatest depth in the conference, the Vols let Kentucky's young players dictate the terms on Tennessee's home floor. After taking an early lead, the Wildcats went to a 2-3 zone that smothered Vol star Dyron Nix (14 points) and a clock-eating spread offense that yielded 61.5% shooting and 23 points by streaky Derrick Miller.
Trying to open up the inside for Nix, Tennessee's outside shooters threw up one brick after another. Of the Vols' 60 shots, Nix had only nine (he made two) as the Volunteers hit a miserable 30% from the floor. This was the league's best team?