In the midst of Madison’s first snowstorm of the year, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team buried South Dakota on Saturday afternoon, 76-61, having never given up the lead.The Badger’s didn’t lose much heat from their ‘can’t miss’ attitude last Wednesday against N.C. State, finishing with 45.3 percent of shots from the floor in the bucket, including 38.7 from behind the arc.Point guard Jordan Taylor came within one assist from a milestone in UW basketball. Taylor finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, one helper away from the first triple-double in the program’s history. Nonetheless, it was still the junior’s first double-double of his career.Senior forward Jon Leuer led all players with 29 points, fueled largely by six three-pointers. Leuer also contributed another nine rebounds and four blocks.Despite changing their defensive scheme a few times in the game, the Coyotes couldn’t prevent the containment breaches of Taylor and Leuer.“A couple kids we could not contain,” said South Dakota head coach Dave Booth. “Taylor’s penetration, he got to the basket whenever he wanted to and Leuer, he was a just lights-out offensive player.”Wisconsin scored four 3-pointers within its first six shots on the floor, including three from Leuer to quickly jump out to a 13-2 advantage after four minutes.Wisconsin’s lead on South Dakota stretched and thinned throughout the first half as the South Dakota shot 46.7 percent from the field, including 45.5 from the arc, to keep up with the Badgers’ pace.From an offensive standpoint, SDU’s approach to the game didn’t surprise UW head coach Bo Ryan one bit.“You know if you watch South Dakota on film, you could have scripted this game yourself,” Ryan said. “This is how they play…. The pops, the stare stare-you-down-pull-up-let-it-fly – every game, whether it was Marquette, Wyoming, Illinois State.”The Coyotes also forced seven turnovers in the first half as well, mostly off of bad passes, and capitalized on those to keep it close. Wisconsin gained as much as a 15-point lead on South Dakota midway through the first half, but led by just five at the break.“That was their M.O., that they were going to come in and come in firing, they have a lot of guys that can do that,” Leuer said. “In hindsight, it would have been better to close out, maybe play some screens differently, but they were pushing in transition and coming down, maybe 25 seconds left on the shot clock, and just firing up threes.”That script changed just a little bit in the second half when South Dakota’s bombardment stopped falling in the basket, shooting about 28 percent from the field and from behind the arc as well.Although its three-point percentage took a bit of a dip, Wisconsin maintained its poise in the second half, while also cutting its turnovers to two. Slowly the Badgers began to separate themselves from the Coyotes.“Sometimes when you fill the middle and jam things up, a lot of those threes that we took were as a result to the ball touching the short corner, the baseline, or the post and on kickouts, traditionally, that’s the highest percentage three you can get when the ball goes to the post and then goes out,” Ryan said.“So when those are there you got to be able to hit them and we had just one little dry patch in there but other than that we have a pretty good system for threes. We had 36 points on 31 shots, that’s good. Anytime you get more points than shot attempts from three, it’s OK.”UW’s bench contributed 15 points, six of them coming from junior forward Rob Wilson, who failed to miss a shot on the day while also adding a rebound and two assists in just seven minutes of play.Wilson, who’s been working his way back into the lineup since injuring his hamstring early in the preseason, still needs to develop his play on defense before receiving more time on the floor, according to Ryan.“There are certain things we do, that we say, and when you don’t do it, you need to watch,” Ryan said. “It’s pretty simple, I have rules on defense. If guys aren’t playing as much against certain teams it might be because, defensively, they don’t handle certain things real well.”
Defense wins championships.We all know that saying. I think it’s probably been plastered onto so many high school football shirts and motivational posters that anyone who’s ever watched or played or even been around sports knows it. Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.No matter what sport, I’ve always loved defense, perhaps even more than offense. When I played basketball and soccer, there was something satisfying about squaring up an opponent and shutting down any move they tried to make past you. When I watch football and basketball, I live for the hard hits and the showboat blocks.That might be because of where I’m from. Kansas City is known across the board for teams that specialize in defense — Sporting KC with its indomitable home field atmosphere, the Chiefs with their smash mouth defensive line and Alex Gordon and the Royals and their high-flying antics in the outfield. It’s something the teams and the city takes pride in. And when defense is great, it’s a thing of beauty to watch.Last Saturday, I don’t think I could use the word “beautiful” to describe most of the USC defense. There were, of course, the highlights of the fourth quarter — that Porter Gustin sack, the Marvel Tell interception — but the game left a bitter taste in the mouths of most fans despite the 49-31 final score.Entering this season, there has been perhaps too much hype surrounding this USC football team. Yet most of it focused on phenom quarterback Sam Darnold, his offense and his inevitable quest to collect a Pac-12 championship, a national championship and a Heisman trophy in one fell swoop. There was a slight rumble in the Coliseum when Darnold took the field for the first time on Saturday, a thrum of expectation that paid off in the opening touchdown drive and then quickly dissipated throughout the frustrating first half. And despite receiving very little of the offseason spotlight, the same expectation still stood for the defense as it took the field.What unfolded over the first three quarters of the Western Michigan game was, in a word, disappointing. The defensive line found no room to pressure the quarterback, while the secondary blew coverage and the linebackers let running backs slip away with sloppy arm tackles. The offense struggled to get off the ground, but they also had no safety net. The defense allowed 263 yards on the ground alone, falling to 113th out of 125 teams in the FBS after the poor outing. The hits weren’t hard and the stops weren’t impressive. For the first time, I felt that the best way to describe the USC defense was “soft.”There are a lot of excuses that could be made for the defense. Western Michigan was bringing a new head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback to the Coliseum, and there was little to no film available to prepare the defense. Junior linebacker Cam Smith, who typically leadsin-game adjustments for the Trojans, was confined to the locker room for the first half due to a suspension carried over from the Rose Bowl, leaving the young defense to adjust themselves without one of their captains. For all those reasons, it makes sense that team came out to a slow start. But there’s a difference between a slow start and allowing almost 300 yards rushing. Sloppy tackles and lack of energy couldn’t be blamed on a lack of film or a sidelined leader or even the heat. Smith was harsh in his review of the team, saying it had nothing to do with anything except lack of concentration.“Bad,” he said impatiently to the reporter scrum after the game. “It was really bad.”Something has to change. The Trojans squeaked out of their season opener with a victory, but the same performance can’t be repeated next Saturday against Stanford. The Cardinal will bring everything that Western Michigan did — scrappy defense, a hard-nosed run game and balanced aerial attack — with the added benefit of Pac-12 talent. It’s too early to panic, and first games are historically poor barometers for the future success of football teams. (Just ask any fan who stuck through from the Alabama game to the Rose Bowl last year, if you don’t believe me.) But while many might be ready to sound the alarm while poring over Darnold’s Heisman chances, I’m much more concerned with the defense.Defense wins championships. It’s cliché. It’s also true. And as USC continues to grind through a tough Pac-12 and non-conference schedule — all without a bye week — it will be the defense, and not the offense, that will be tested the most.If the Trojans are going to live up to the hype this year, fans will have to hope that a different defense shows up to the Coliseum this Saturday.Julia Poe is a junior studying print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, Poe’s Perspective, runs Wednesdays.