CHICAGO (AP) — Bronson Koenig and No. 6 Wisconsin turned up the pressure in the second half. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker were everywhere, using their strong defense to create easy chances on offense.
It was an impressive argument for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Top-seeded Wisconsin advanced to the Big Ten final with a 71-51 victory over Purdue on Saturday. The Badgers trailed by five at the break, and then overwhelmed the Boilermakers in the second half of their fifth straight victory. Wisconsin held Purdue to six field goals and 24 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes.
“When we’re doing good on the defensive end, it makes the offense even more fun, because one thing leads to another,” Dekker said. “We have the guys who can get it done on both ends.”
Koenig scored a career-high 19 points while Dekker and Nigel Hayes had 15 points apiece. Kaminsky shook off a slow start and finished with 12 points, five assists, three steals and three blocks.
The Badgers (30-3) reached 30 wins for the fourth time. They can match a school record for victories by winning Sunday’s final against Michigan State. They also can strengthen their case for a prized top seed in the NCAA Tournament, a scenario that became more plausible after No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Virginia lost on Friday.
“You know, I never really have talked about seeds ever,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said, before adding, “I stay away from it because I want all my energies to go towards the game tomorrow, and then we find out who we play, and then all our energy is going into, boom, that first opponent.”
A.J. Hammons had 10 points — all in the first half — and seven rebounds for No. 4 seed Purdue (21-12), a strong candidate for an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. A.J. Thompson and Kendall Stephens each had nine points.
The Boilermakers carried a 35-30 lead into the locker room, but the Badgers opened the second half with a 14-3 run. Kaminsky, who got off to a sluggish start, seemed to find his game by playing tough defense on Hammons, and Koenig scored five straight points to help the Badgers to a 44-38 lead with 13:51 left.
Thompson’s three-point play got Purdue within 46-44, but the Badgers responded with 13 straight points. Kaminsky started it with a jumper and also found Dekker for a fast-break dunk that drew a big cheer from the pro-Wisconsin crowd at the United Center.
“We tried to get fouled instead of scoring the ball on a handful of possessions,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said, “and they have a way of frustrating you the way they defend, and played great position defense, and we didn’t do a good job of adjusting with it and kind of fell apart from there.”
Hammons had 23 points and nine rebounds in the Boilermakers’ 64-59 victory over Penn State in the quarterfinals. But the 7-foot junior missed each of his four shots from the field in the second half against the Badgers.
“The second half I came out and I didn’t feel like I had enough opportunities,” he said, “so I was kind of down on myself and trying to pick myself up, and that just hurt me a little bit.”
Koenig was 7 for 14 from the field while playing 35 minutes. The sophomore could return to a reserve role when senior Traevon Jackson returns from a broken right foot, possibly in time for the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m just trying to help this team in any way I can,” Koenig said. “My teammates have done a good job of giving me confidence to do so, especially Traevon from the bench, during halftime, timeouts, stuff like that. He’s given me a lot of confidence to do my thing.”
Purdue: Stephens was 3 for 3 from 3-point range, and Thompson made both of his attempts from beyond the arc. But the rest of the team was 2 for 9 from deep. … The Boilermakers committed seven of their nine turnovers in the second half.
Wisconsin: The Badgers outrebounded the Boilermakers 35-27 and have won the rebounding battle in 24 of their 33 games this season. … Wisconsin has 25 double-digit wins. … The Badgers had no turnovers in the first half and just three for the game.
Purdue waits to see where it’s headed for the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin faces Michigan State in Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament final.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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