Little Kelley plays big for Badgers in win

by Mark Heller

MADISON, Wisc. — Mike Kelley isn’t a big man.
The Wisconsin junior is 6-foot-3, 185 pounds.
He’s not going to win any scoring titles. Entering Saturday night’s game against Minnesota, his career high was 17 points. As the point guard, he doesn’t even lead his own team in assists.
Against Penn State on Wednesday, Kelley was dissected by the Lions’ Joe Crispin for 31 points.
But Kelley — lost among his seemingly mediocre stats on a mediocre team — has one honor most others don’t have.
He is the reigning defensive player of the year.
“Mike was stunned last week,” Badgers coach Dick Bennett said of Crispin’s 31 points. “He’s a competitor, but we didn’t know it would be that dramatic. When someone beats him at his best, he’ll respond.”
The Badgers are the best defensive team in the conference, and Kelley is the best defender. That was further enhanced in Saturday’s 85-53 shredding of the Gophers at the Kohl Center.
“He was tremendous,” Minnesota coach Dan Monson said. “I have to look here to see, because they all did what they wanted. We didn’t make them do anything. We made them all look like they should all be All-Big Ten. They had about 12 All-Big Ten players the way we played, but he might have been their MVP.”
Right from the get-go, a Kelley-led Badgers defense had a large hand in dictating the Gophers’ impotence.
After a Wisconsin steal and dunk, it was 24-6 with 11 minutes left in the first half. By then, the Gophers already had nine turnovers, six off Badgers steals.
Meanwhile, the Gophers’ starting backcourt of Terrance Simmons and Kevin Burleson were held to zero points, one assist and six turnovers.
“We watched a lot of film and we saw a very up-tempo team that likes to trap,” Kelley said. “We just wanted to take care of the ball and make the easy pass.
“Defensively we were real concerned about their inside game. Their post guys are real crafty at getting open, so we packed the lane and wanted to make them beat us outside.”
The difference was clear. Turnovers and 53 points for the Gophers, good shots and 85 points for the Badgers.
Kelley also excelled at finishing what he started. He went 7-for-7 from the floor, finishing with 16 points, four assists, six steals and only one turnover in 26 minutes. For the third time this season, Kelley had six or more steals. He is now second in team history with 169 career steals.
Defense is the hallmark of Bennett’s teams. Following the Penn State thumping, the physically unimpressive-looking Kelley took offense toward the Gophers.
“Being the defensive stopper, I take it upon myself to bring that on the defensive end, so tonight was my chance to get back and do some things for my team. I got going early and the crowd got going, and everything just kind of snowballed.”

Mark Heller covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected].