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February 2012 Archives

Great opportunities within reach for Badgers

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In today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about adversity and opportunity.

Adversity, what a great word for sports, what a great lesson for life. Wisconsin softball is 4-5 right now.  It's a good 4-5. We've played a great schedule, with our three of our five losses to top 25 teams, and the other two losses to Arkansas and Maryland who are in the top 30/receiving votes.

The first few weekends always test your mental toughness. Everyone enters the season with high hopes and dreams of the type of impact player they could be. Everyone has their sights set on making huge strides as a program, getting out of the gates fast and knocking off a few ranked teams. Reality can be humbling. When things don't go as you'd planned, it can either motivate or hold your back.

For Badger softball, this week is about focus and confidence. When you face ranked teams, and you play in tough, tight games that you almost win, it breaks your heart. Adversity tests your character, placing you in pressure situations, forcing you to act, react, and respond during and after competition. As a growing team that's still trying to figure out who we are, and how to win big games, it's the response that matters most. What happens after the game; what do you do every day afterwards to improve? As a coaching staff, we're so pleased that our team has the opportunity to play in tight games against great pitchers early in the season. It builds your database, and makes you a smarter, tougher team.

As a staff, we work hard to prepare our team to compete. We've challenged them mentally and physically throughout the fall and winter. We've built up their softball IQ and worked on mental training. Yet there is no substitute for the real feelings that arise when each players battles through the ups and downs of the season. It is the games that cause that gut reaction, the nerves, the thrills and hearth-break. There's no way to simulate that emotional rush. What we cannot account for as coaches is each individual's mental toughness, and their ability to deal with adversity and challenges. Great players always bounce back.

I think our team is in the perfect position to make a run, and go on a role these next 14 games. We're prepared, we've been tested; we're learning and getting better each and every game. Our success over the next three weekends will be a direct result of how mentally tough our team is. If the challenges of the past two weekends bring us down, and hold us back, it could get ugly. If the adversity causes divisiveness internally, we could be in trouble. Yet if we can pull confidence and trust from what we've learned in playing tough ranked teams, we could surprise some people.

I'm excited to see our team's character and leadership develop. This weekend could be a great turning point for the Badgers. We'll see if we have the leadership and experience to make the jump. I would love to see the team pull together, get excited, and string together some wins. It all comes down to temperament. These are the moments in the season, and in our student-athletes careers, when the greatest opportunity is right within reach.

Last day for the offense

110924FB-5336-01.jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

After nearly 4,000 votes on Facebook, the offensive side of the ball is taking shape for the All-Bielema Team. The voting for the final position for the offense, right tackle, opens today on the Football Facebook Page.

However, just because we're highlighting the right tackle today doesn't mean you can't go in and vote for all the other positions if you have not done so already. Think John Stocco is getting overlooked in the QB battle? Want to have a say in the close race at tight end between Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks? Who should be the second WR to line up with Nick Toon? Have your say on Facebook or Twitter (#AllBielemaTeam).

The Right Tackle Candidates:

Oglesby_Josh_UNLV_2011.jpgJosh Oglesby (2009-11)
First-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011 ... started 28 games in his career, including 10 as a sophomore and 13 as a senior ... started three games at LT as a freshman ... winner of team's Wayne Souza Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... invited to 2012 NFL Scouting Combine






Vanden Heuvel_Eric_ILL_08.jpgEric Vanden Heuvel (2006-08)
Started 35 career games at right tackle ... winner of UW's Wayne Souza Coaches Appreciation Award as a senior ... honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2006 ... also named Academic All-Big Ten in 2006 ... three-time UW offensive player of the week in 2008




Wagner_Ricky_IND_2011.jpgRicky Wagner (2010-11)
Honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010 and 2011 ... started 10 games at right tackle in 2010 ... started all 14 games of 2011 at left tackle ... former walk-on tight end who earned a scholarship







Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

The Voice: Tough-minded Badgers will be tough out in tourney

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWelcome to the Madness.

As the Big Ten season hits the final few days and more than a dozen other conference tournaments get going, let us just go ahead and welcome all those sports fans whose interest in college basketball picks up -- right about this time of year.

More than one week away from Selection Sunday, and already I have heard what has turned into an annual question. How far will the Badgers advance in the NCAA tournament?

Who knows? Can we at least wait for the tournament pairings?

Boring as it might sound, that is the best answer I can give. However, there are some signs that the Badgers once again could be a tough out in postseason play.

The effort last Sunday at Ohio State certainly gives fans reason to believe. After coming close against highly-ranked teams such as North Carolina, Marquette, Michigan State and the first matchup with the Buckeyes, Wisconsin broke through with a 63-60 victory in Columbus.

In sports, there are some games that you steal. This was not one of them. The Badgers won it. They won it with a big-league effort from Jared Berggren, Jordan Taylor and company. With Taylor, it is the latest chapter in a terrific career, but to see Berggren have success at both ends of the floor against OSU big man Jared Sullinger is encouraging. Yes, it is simply one game, but what a game it was.

How about the recent play of Rob Wilson? The senior can hear the clock ticking on his college basketball career, and he is playing as though he would like it to last several more weeks.

To make a long story short, it appears as though a certain All-America point guard is getting more and more help from players not named Jordan Taylor. In two of the previous three games prior to Tuesday night's 52-45 victory against Minnesota, Wisconsin had four players scoring in double figures. Against Ohio State there were three, with Wilson adding nine critical points off the bench.

It is no secret that opposing teams have tried to do everything possible to contain Taylor. Still, there are times when Taylor proves to be next to impossible to stop. Just ask the Gophers. However, on other nights, Taylor needs the other four on the floor to pick him up.  As the regular season comes to a close, the Badgers are showing they are capable of providing some balance.

"They're gonna have to," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "That is how you can get to keep playing. They are trying to be a more consistent unit, no matter who the five are on the court."

Against the Gophers, it was more a matter of Jordan needing to be Jordan. The senior guard knocked down 3 of 6 shots from 3-point range and then added 11 of 12 from the free throw line. Come tournament time, he may very well need to have a monster game --maybe more than one -- for Wisconsin to advance.

But perhaps the better chance for the Badgers would be if they are able to distribute the scoring.

On Tuesday, the Badgers finished a rather grueling stretch of playing three games in six days in three different cities. They won two of those, which assures the Badgers of a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament for the 12th-straight year.

And they are in line for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Some of the Badgers' games have been anything but pretty, but this streak of postseason appearances is a thing of beauty.

Who will join Thomas, Moffitt and Konz?

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Thumbnail image for Zeitler_Kevin_USD_2011.jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

You'd think being a first-team All-American would guarantee you a spot on the All-Bielema Team. Guess again. Gabe Carimi won the Outland Trophy and was a consensus first-team All-American in 2010 but it looks like he will be backing up Joe Thomas at left tackle.

Today's vote is at right guard, where All-Americans Kraig Urbik and Kevin Zeitler will battle it out. Between the two of them, they have started all but six games at right guard for the Badgers over the last six seasons. Urbik started 13 games for the Buffalo Bills last season and Zeitler is expected to be a high-round pick in this April's NFL draft. Should be a close vote.  

The Right Guard Candidates:

Kraig Urbik (2006-08)
Started 37 of 39 games at right guard over his last three seasons ... 2008 first-team All-American by ESPN.com ... started the first 45 games of his career (13 at right tackle, 32 at right guard) ... two-time second-team All-Big Ten selection ... three-time UW offensive player of the week ... drafted in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers ... has played in 23 games with 15 starts in two seasons with the Buffalo Bills




Zeitler_Kevin_UNLV_2011 (3).jpgKevin Zeitler (2009-11)
Started 36 of 40 games at right guard over his last three seasons ... 2011 first-team AFCA  All-American ... 2011 first-team All-Big Ten ... honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2010 ... two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection ... invited to 2012 Senior Bowl and 2012 NFL Scouting Combine




Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

All-Bielema Team o-line taking shape

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***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

Over the weekend, voting started for the offensive line positions on the All-Bielema Team. As any Badger fan knows, UW's o-line has become known consistently as one of the top units in the country. So it stands to reason that there are a number of good candidates at each position along the line.

Left tackle has become the glamour position along the offensive line and UW has had a pretty good crop during the Bielema era. It started with Joe Thomas in 2006. He won the Outland Trophy and has gone on to become a five-time Pro Bowler in the NFL. Gabe Carimi followed him, started for four years, and he too won the Outland Trophy and was a first-round pick. Last year, in his first season on the left side, Ricky Wagner earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors.

There hasn't been much turnover at left guard either. Andy Kemp, a second-team All-Big Ten choice, started from 2006-08. He was succeeded by All-American John Moffitt in 2009 and 2010. And last year, Travis Frederick earned second-team all-conference honors at the position.

Which brings us to Monday's vote, centers. Because Moffitt looks to be running away with the vote at left guard, there are only two center candidates to choose from.

The Center Candidates:

Marcus Coleman (2006-07)
Started all 26 games at center in 2006-07 ... earned All-Big Ten honors both seasons, including first-team as a senior ... lone senior on 2007 o-line








Konz_Peter_Oregon_2011 (4).jpgPeter Konz (2009-11)
Started 32 games at center over three seasons ... 2011 first-team All-American ... 2011 Rimington Trophy finalist ... first-team All-Big Ten as a junior ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten ... 2010 ESPN Academic All-District ... Sporting News freshman All-American in 2009






Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).
Bohannon_Zach_RW_2011-12 (3)_BLOG.jpgWisconsin freshman Jarrod Uthoff got a sneak preview Thursday night of the type of reception that he will likely receive in the near future at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.

The noisy crowd (14,248) - which was bolstered by a special promotion (free admission to students) - serenaded UW guard Ben Brust with boos every time he touched the basketball.

Brust had originally signed a national letter of intent to attend Iowa. But the Big Ten granted him a release after the Hawkeyes fired Todd Lickliter - the coach to whom Brust had committed.

The circumstances are different for Uthoff, the reigning Mr. Basketball in Iowa. As a senior, Uthoff led the state in scoring as he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds for Cedar Rapids Jefferson.

Uthoff had a sizeable contingent of family and friends at Thursday's game even though he never got off the bench for the Badgers. The 18-year-old Uthoff is redshirting this season.

"We think he's got a bright future and this has been a good year for Jarrod to improve and bang in practice against the guys that are ahead of him," said UW assistant coach Gary Close.

"He's added strength, which was a big reason why he redshirted in the first place."

The 6-foot-8 Uthoff has added 18 pounds and increased his weight to 210.

"We're putting money in the bank," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, "and if you can leave it in there a little longer you're going to get a higher interest rate for that fifth year."

"Redshirting is never a mistake; it's very rare when you don't have a better fifth year than your first year," added Close. "Jarrod's game is coming around; you can see it every day in practice."

Working on the scout team against the starters, Uthoff has shown some offensive skills.

"He's pretty athletic and long," Close said. "He can shoot the 3 and score around the basket. If he can add some strength and different parts to his game, he has a chance to be a good player."

As redshirts, Uthoff and freshman point guard George Marshall have been able to go to school on what it takes to deliver a consistent performance level every day in practice.

"Along with the strength issues, that's the one thing freshmen have to comprehend and figure out," Gard said. "That's playing hard on every possession - every possession every day matters."

Among the Cedar Rapids metro high school programs, Uthoff is the first senior to be honored as Mr. Basketball in Iowa since 2006 when Linn-Mar's Jason Bohannon was so recognized.

Bohannon scored over 1,000 career points and played in the second most games (135) in school history during his four years at Wisconsin. Bohannon, like Brust, was booed at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

That same fate likely awaits Bohannon's younger brother, Zach Bohannon, who's sitting out the mandatory redshirt year after transferring from the Air Force Academy.

The 6-6, 210-pound Bohannon has two years of eligibility remaining.

"He's a smart and experienced player," Close said of ZBo. "Here's a guy who has played a lot of basketball at a high Division-1 level (Bohannon appeared in 39 games during his two years at Air Force).

"He can knock down shots - as all the Bohannon's can. He'll bang a little bit. He can pick-and-pop. He's a good passer and pretty versatile around the basket with his right or left hand."

Bohannon joined the UW program late last summer.

"One thing that will benefit him," Gard said, "is that he will have the spring and eight weeks in June and July to develop from a physical standpoint and reconfigure his body a little bit more."

That window, Gard pointed out, will also be valuable to incoming freshman Sam Dekker.

"He's physically starting to fill out and he already understands the importance of the weight room," Gard said. "He's not naïve or blinded by anything. He understands that he has to get stronger."

Last Tuesday night, Dekker scored 58 points in Sheboygan Lutheran's 80-73 win over Random Lake. He was 14-of-14 inside the arc, 5-of-10 on 3-pointers and 15-of-17 from the free throw line.

Dekker also had eight rebounds, five blocked shots and zero turnovers.

"A lot of guys can't get 58 points in a lay-up line much less in a basketball game," Close observed. "That's impressive and I don't care who you're playing against."

After watching Dekker play earlier this season, Close said, "He's a very versatile player in terms of being able to score in a lot of different ways. He's athletic, he plays hard and he's been well-coached.

"The fans here are going to love him."

Gard agreed about the dimension that Dekker can bring to the offense.

"He's a variety scorer," Gard said. "He can post. He'll rebound and go rim-to-rim with the ball. He's got great vision and he sees the whole floor. Plus, he's very unselfish."

What about transitioning from Sheboygan Lutheran's suspect competitive level to the Big Ten? Gard cited the experience Dekker has gained from playing against the best of the best in AAU basketball.

"He can more than hold his own," Gard said.

That's very true despite Dekker falling short of being named a McDonald's All-American.

"Maybe that's a benefit," Close said. "It's probably not fair because he certainly deserved it. But it's a chip that he can put on his shoulder as far as, 'Hey, I'm going to prove those people wrong.'

"Sam is that type of kid; he's very competitive. I think maybe in the long run it will help."

Catching on

***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

While Travis Beckum and Lance Kendricks continue to battle it out for the tight end spot on the All-Bielema Team, we turn our attention to the wide receiver position.

For our purposes, the starting offense will be made up of a running back, fullback, tight end and two wide receivers. With two open spots, we have included five wide receivers in the discussion. It looks like these receivers will have the benefit of Russell Wilson at QB, Montee Ball at RB and either Beckum or Kendricks at TE. That means a lot of 1-on-1 coverage on the outside. Who is best equipped to take advantage of that?

For two of the WR candidates, special teams play was (and is) a big part of their contributions, Try to separate that, however, as there will be voting for punt returner and kickoff returner in the coming weeks.

The Wide Receiver Candidates:

Thumbnail image for Abbrederis_Jared_IND_2011 (2).jpgJared Abbrederis (2010-present)
Former scout team QB who exploded on the scene as a redshirt sophomore ... 933 receiving yards last season were fifth-best in school history and fifth in the Big Ten ... also had eight TD grabs, which is tied for fifth-best in UW history ... honorable-mention All-Big Ten choice ... in just two seasons, already ranks 18th in school history with 1,222 career receiving yards ... his 16.3 yards per catch in his career is 10th-best in school history ... two career 100-yard receiving games




Thumbnail image for Anderson_Isaac_Mich_09_3.jpgIsaac Anderson (2006-10)
23rd all-time in school history with 1,048 career receiving yards ... played in 46 career games, starting 26 of them ... 80 career catches ... caught 80-yard TD pass on first play of the 2009 season, tied for the fifth-longest pass play in Badgers' history ... also scored his only career rushing TD in that game ... two career 100-yard receiving games



Gilreath_Daivd_IND_08.jpgDavid Gilreath (2007-10)
2008 second-team All-Big Ten ... 2007 first-team freshman All-American ... ranks third in school history in all-purpose yards ... played in 50 career games, starting 18 at wide receiver ... 22nd in school history with 1,077 career receiving yards ... also rushed for 442 yards in career ... best season was as a sophomore, catching 31 passes for 520 yards and three TDs and rushing for 285 yards and two scores ... had a 90-yard TD run at Indiana in 2008, the second-longest run in school history ... ran for 168 yards and two TDs vs. Hoosiers ... also had a 100-yard receiving game vs. Cal Poly ... after bouncing around NFL last year, signed free-agent contract with Pittsburgh Steelers in January

Swan_Luke_WSU_Celebration.jpgLuke Swan (2004-07)
Former walk-on turned team captain ... played in only eight games with no catches his first two seasons then caught 60 passes for 1,046 yards and seven TDs in 2006-07 ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten and two-time ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District ... senior season cut short midway through due to hamstring injury ... only 100-yard game of career came in key 2006 win at Iowa with backup QB Tyler Donovan at the helm ... 17.4 yards per catch for his career is tied for fifth-best in school history

Toon_Nick_Oregon_2011.jpgNick Toon (2008-11)
Third in school history with 2,447 career receiving yards and 171 career receptions ... fifth at UW with 18 career receiving touchdowns ... second-team All-Big Ten as a senior ... 64 catches in 2011 are tied for third-most in school history ... 10 TD catches in 2011 are second-best in UW history ... 926 receiving yards in 2011 are sixth-best in school history ... career-high nine receptions for 104 yards vs. Oregon in 2012 Rose Bowl ... honorable mention All-Big Ten in 2009 with 54 catches for 805 yards and four TDs ... played in 47 career games with 31 starts ... three career 100-yard receiving games


Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

Cream of the crop

Thumbnail image for 781100912181_Panthers_v_Giants.jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

The first three days of voting for the All-Bielema Team produced some runaway winners. QB Russell Wilson, RB Montee Ball and FB Bradie Ewing each garnered better than 80 percent of the votes on Facebook. I'm thinking our next position group won't be as clear-cut.

A total of five former Badger tight ends have been taken in the last six NFL Drafts. The three most recent of those, Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham and Lance Kendricks, all played for head coach Bret Bielema. That trio is so good that Jacob Pedersen, a second-team All-Big Ten choice last year whose eight TD catches were tied for second-most among TEs in the country last year, didn't make the finalist list.

The Tight End Candidates:

Thumbnail image for Beckum_Travis_OSU1_07.jpgTravis Beckum (2006-08)
2007 John Mackey Award finalist ... 2007 first-team All-American ... led nation's tight ends with 982 receiving yards in 2007 ... that was a school record for TEs ... also set school TEs record for catches in a season with 75 in 2007 ... 2006 semifinalist for John Mackey Award ... 2006 second-team All-American ... senior season cut short by leg injury ... career totals of 159 receptions (3rd in school history), 2,149 receiving yards (3rd) and 11TDs ... also had seven career 100-yard receiving games ... drafted in the third round by the New York Giants and has 26 career receptions in three NFL seasons


Graham_Garrett_Miami_09_4.jpgGarrett Graham (2006-09)
Two-time first-team All-Big Ten choice ... 2009 honorable mention All-American ... led Badgers in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs in 2008 and '09 ... career totals of 1,492 receiving yards (12th in school history), 121 receptions (T7th) and 16 TDs (T6th) ... drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Texans and has played in 13 games in two seasons



Kendricks_Lance_SJSU_10.jpgLance Kendricks (2007-10)
2010 John Mackey Award finalist ... 2010 first-team All-American ... 663 receiving yards in 2010, third-best among nation's TEs ... led Badgers in receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs as a senior ... career totals of 78 receptions, 1,160 receiving yards (18th in school history) and eight TDs ... drafted in the second round by the St. Louis Rams, starting 10 games and making 28 catches as a rookie




Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

NFL Scouting Combine kicks off this week

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Now that the NFL season has wrapped up, football fans can turn their attention squarely to the 2012 NFL Draft, which is a little more than two months away. One of the biggest events on the "Path to the Draft" in the NFL scouting combine, which opens this week in Indianapolis.

***Follow all the former Badgers at UWBadgers.com's 2012 NFL Scouting Combine page***

This year a school-record eight former Badgers were invited to the combine, the second-highest total of any school in the country. The players invited were:

* FB Bradie Ewing
* CB Antonio Fenelus
* C Peter Konz
* P Brad Nortman
* OL Josh Oglesby
* WR Nick Toon
* QB Russell Wilson
* OL Kevin Zeitler

Last year, DE J.J. Watt wowed the scouts with his performance at the combine, working himself up to the No. 11 pick in the draft. QB Scott Tolzien also helped himself, making a good impression during drills and as a "throwing" quarterback while the other skill position players worked out, eventually landing a free agent deal and spending the season with the San Francisco 49ers.

Once again, NFL Network will have extensive coverage of the combine from Lucas Oil Stadium. Perhaps the Badgers will benefit from their familiarity with the field, having beaten Michigan State, 42-39, in the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship game on Dec. 3 in that venue.

The complete combine schedule is below, along with the NFL Network's coverage.

PLAYERS' SCHEDULES
Groups 1, 2, 3 (K, ST, OL, TE)

Badgers: Konz, Nortman, Zeitler, Oglesby
Feb. 22        Arrive in Indy/Registration/Orientation/Interviews
Feb. 23        Measurements/Medical Examinations/Media/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 24        NFLPA meeting/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 25        Workouts

Groups 4, 5, 6 (QB, WR, RB)
Badgers: Ewing, Toon, Wilson
Feb. 23        Arrive in Indy/Registration/Orientation/Interviews
Feb. 24        Measurements/Medical Examinations/Media/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 25        NFLPA meeting/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 26        Workouts

Groups 10, 11 (DB)
Badgers: Fenelus
Feb. 25        Arrive in Indy/Registration/Orientation/Interviews
Feb. 26        Measurements/Medical Examinations/Media/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 27        NFLPA meeting/Psychological testing/Interviews
Feb. 28        Workouts

NFL NETWORK SCHEDULE
Feb. 25        8 a.m.-6 p.m.    K, OL, TE workouts
Feb. 26        8 a.m.-6 p.m.    RB, QB, WR workouts
Feb. 27        8 a.m.-6 p.m.    LB, DL workouts
Feb. 28        8 a.m.-6 p.m.    DB workouts
Feb. 29        7 p.m.              NFL Scouting Combine Wrap-up Show

Kicking off the season

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softball_BLOG.jpgIn today's blog entry, head coach Yvette Healy writes about opening weekend and the team's focus.

It was great to kick-off the 2012 softball season in Tampa, Fla. The University of South Florida hosted a nice tournament with Arkansas, Drake and Georgia Southern. I'm proud of our team for winning our opening game, and coming home 2-2.

Whitney Massey led the offense, getting on base and driving in runs. Redshirt sophomore Molly Spence provided a few sparks, driving in runs in three separate games. Our pitchers were impressive; averaging only five hits a game while keeping us in every contest. Junior Meghan McIntosh and sophomore Cassandra Darrah each earned their first wins of the season. Defensively, Shannel Blackshear and Stephanie Peace did a nice job holding down the left side of the infield their first weekend on the dirt.

We have a short turnaround this week, returning to Florida to face Maryland, Florida State, Southern Illinois and St. John's in Orlando Feb. 24-26. Maryland and Florida State are both ranked in the top 30 right now, which is exciting.

Our focus last weekend was pulling activities from the book, "10-Minute Toughness" by Jason Selk. We had our team create "Identity Statements" to help them decide who they want to be and how they want to live. Dr. Maxwell Maltz's "Psycho Cybernetics" argues that you will act like the sort of person you conceive yourself to be. I think this positive self-talk exercise helped our athletes stay composed and confident.  




All-Bielema backfield has familiar look

Ball_Montee_PennState_2011.jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

Day two of voting for the All-Bielema team was very similar to day one, with the most recent candidate running away with the popular vote. On both Facebook and Twitter, 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball easily outdistanced 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay and 2006 national Freshman of the Year P.J. Hill.

Wednesday the spotlight shifts to the less-heralded half of the Badgers' running back tandem, the fullback. As one of the few teams left in college football that regularly employs a fullback, Wisconsin has produced some pretty good ones in recent years.

The Fullback Candidates:

Ewing_Bradie_USD_2011.jpgBradie Ewing (2008-11)
2011 UW Special Teams Player of the Year ... invited to the 2012 Senior Bowl and 2012 NFL Scouting Combine ... 2010 Tom Wiesner Award winner, given to the team's top Wisconsin-born player ... three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection ... caught 20 passes for 246 yards as a senior ... 504 career all-purpose yards and four career TDs ... started on all four special teams units and made 17 career tackles




Pressley_Chris_NIU_07.jpgChris Pressley (2004-08)
Currently on the Cincinnati Bengals roster ... has played in 29 games in the NFL the last three seasons, starting 13 of them ... started 21 games at FB in his career as a Badger, including 18 in 2007-08 ... two-time Academic All-Big Ten and winner of UW's Ivan B. Williamson Scholastic Award ... 25 career carries for 103 yards and a touchdown ... also caught two passes for eight yards and a TD



Rentmeester_Bill_OSU_08.jpgBill Rentmeester (2005-08)
Appeared in 47 career games, including 39 from 2006-08 ... named UW's special teams player of the year as a senior ... famous for "Billy on the belly" play at Fresno State in 2008 when he ran for eight yards and a first down deep in Wisconsin territory that helped UW run out the clock to end the game ... carried the ball 26 times in his career for 116 yards and one touchdown ... also caught four passes for 21 yards and a score




Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).


The Voice: Whatever the recipe, Badgers keep winning

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgWhile it is unlikely anyone associated with the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team will say it out loud, the Badgers appear to be in pretty decent shape for a 14th-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

Only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State have longer streaks. Meanwhile Texas, which like the Badgers has gone dancing for the last 13 years, would seem to have some work to do.

To be sure, the Longhorns could still make it, but they begin the week with a 7-8 conference record, and a ratings percentage index (RPI) of 59, according to CollegeRPI.com.

A couple of other traditional powers will need to win their conference tournaments to make the field. Pittsburgh is last in the Big East with a 4-11 record, while its RPI is 93. UCLA is 8-6 in the Pac-12, but has an RPI of 136.

In other words, dropping games to the Panthers and the Bruins, especially the latter, would be considered a bad loss. Imagine that.

The RPI is just one of several tools for the NCAA tournament selection committee, but clearly those numbers help demonstrate that Texas, Pitt and UCLA have had their struggles.

Meanwhile, the Badgers simply continue to win. On Sunday, Bo Ryan's bunch won its 20th game of year. That is six straight seasons of at least 20 victories, and the ninth in 11 years under Ryan. In the history of the program, the UW has 13 such seasons.

Perhaps even more telling is the fact that the Badgers can still finish in the top four of the Big Ten standings.

They would like to believe they can end up even higher, but for now, Wisconsin is a game-and-a-half ahead of fifth-place Indiana. If the Badgers hold on to that position, it would be the 11th-straight season of a fourth-place or better finish in the league.

Now that is impressive.  

Perhaps even more so this season. Yes, this team really struggles to score, but far more often than not, they defend. They protect the basketball. And they make free throws, especially late in games.

To this point of the season, that combination has helped the Badgers to the Big Ten's best road record.

With trips coming up to Iowa City and Columbus, that combo needs to be in play again.

Much has been made of Wisconsin's home record under Ryan, and much has been made of the Badgers' four Kohl Center losses this season. Understandable, but what many folks have missed is the success away from home.

Since Ryan became the head coach in Madison, no team in the Big Ten has been better outside of its own gym than the Badgers.

During that period, Wisconsin's 47 conference road wins is tied with Ohio State for the most in the league. Michigan State is next in line with 43.

The Badgers are not picky. They win here. They win there (stolen from Charlie Sheen).

Without a doubt, the Badgers would love to average more than the 60 points per game they manage in league play. But, if they score 52 and the opponent has 51, they will take it.

Especially at this stage of the season, when absolutely nothing is easy.

Against Penn State, the shots started to fall more frequently. Hopefully that is a sign of things to come.

However, if the offense starts scuffling again, the Badgers still can have a fighting chance, as long as the defense remains solid, they secure the basketball and they knock down pressure free throws.

That might end up being Wisconsin's winning recipe.

Leader in the clubhouse

Wilson_Russell_NEB_2011 (16).jpg***Vote for the All-Bielema Team on Facebook***

Day one of voting for the All-Bielema Team is in the books and it looks like we have our quarterback. To the surprise of very few, unless there is a huge groundswell of support for either Scott Tolzien or John Stocco over the next three weeks, Russell Wilson will be under center when the team is revealed on March 15.

No one can argue that Wilson had a tremendous impact on the Badgers in his one season. He set an NCAA record for pass efficiency, set school records for passing yards, completions, passing TDs and total offense and led UW to the Rose Bowl. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten choice and won the league's inaugural Griese-Brees QB of the Year Award.

However, his competitors were no slouches either. In his only season under head coach Bret Bielema, Stocco led Wisconsin to its only 12-win season in school history. That year he was a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien Award. While not in the Bielema era, he held the single-season school records for passing yards, completions and passing TDs until Wilson smashed them this year. And for his career, he led the Badgers to a 29-7 record (second-most wins in school history) and ranks second at UW in passing yards, attempts, completions and passing TDs.

Before Wilson's amazing season, Tolzien probably would have been the runaway winner. He led the Badgers to a 21-5 record in his two years as a starter, including an appearance in the 2011 Rose Bowl. He owns the best career pass efficiency mark in school history, two of the top five passing yardage seasons in school history and nearly set a Big Ten record with a .729 completion percentage in 2010. As a senior, he won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, becoming the only UW quarterback to win a major national award in school history.

Today, we move on to the running backs, perhaps the deepest position of the Bielema era. All three candidates rank among the top 10 in school history in career rushing yardage. Combined they have accounted for six 1,000-yard rushing seasons. And they each scored more than 40 TDs in their career (one almost did it in a single season).

The Running Back Candidates:

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Ball_Montee_Oregon_2011 (3).jpgMontee Ball (2009-present)
2011 Heisman Trophy finalist ... 2011 Doak Walker Award finalist ... 2011 Chicago Tribune Silver Football winner ... 2011 Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year ... 2011 Ameche-Dayne Big Ten RB of the Year ... 2011 consensus first-team All-American ... scored 39 TDs in 2011, tying the NCAA record held by Barry Sanders ... led the NCAA with 1,923 rushing yards in 2011 ... career totals of 3,310 rushing yards (9th in school history), 5.8 ypc. (2nd), 55 rushing TDs (2nd), 16 100-yard rushing games (8th) 3,836 all-purpose yards (10th) and 61 total TDs (2nd)


Clay_John_TCU_2010 (2).jpgJohn Clay (2008-10)
2010 Doak Walker Award finalist ... 2010 AP third-team All-American ... 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year ... 2009 consensus first-team All-Big Ten ... 2009 Champs Sports Bowl MVP ... ranked eighth in the country with 1,517 rushing yards in 2009 ... rushed for 100+ yards and scored at least one TD in 10 straight games ... career totals of 3,413rushing yards (7th in school history), 5.4 ypc. (4th), 41 rushing TDs (6th) and 18 100-yard rushing games (5th)


Hill_P.J._CIT2_07.jpgP.J. Hill (2006-08)
2006 national Freshman of the Year ... 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year ... 2006 first-team All-Big Ten ... 2006 Doak Walker Award semifinalist ... seventh-best rushing total for a freshman in NCAA history ... ranked sixth in the country with 1,569 rushing yards in 2006 ... joined Billy Marek and Ron Dayne as the only Badgers to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three-straight seasons ... career totals of 3,942 rushing yards (3rd in school history), 5.1 ypc. (T7th), 42 rushing TDs (T3rd) and 20 100-yard rushing games (3rd)



Remember to vote early and often for the All-Bielema team either on Facebook or Twitter using #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).




Of all the improbable achievements in Wisconsin athletics history, the 2001-02 Badger men's basketball team has to rank among the most remarkable.

With a roster featuring just one returning starter and only eight scholarship players, first-year head coach Bo Ryan watched his squad struggle to a 1-4 start. Incredibly, Ryan's team would spend the next four months battling back to earn a share of the school's first Big Ten championship in 55 years.

At halftime of Sunday's 65-55 win over Penn State, the University of the Wisconsin honored the 10-year anniversary of that 2002 Big Ten Championship team.

As seen in the video above, members of the team and staff were introduced Sunday to a standing ovation from a capacity Kohl Center crowd.

The 2001-02 Badgers won their final six conference games to finish the season with a 19-13 record, including an 11-5 mark in Big Ten play. Wisconsin earned a share of the Big Ten Conference title for the first time since 1947 and earned the league's No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. UW would advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament that year before falling to eventual national champion Maryland.

Ryan became the first-ever Badger coach to earn Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after leading UW to 19 wins, most ever for a first-year coach. He also became just the 10th coach in conference history to win a league title in his first season.

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Cast your vote for the 'All-Bielema Team'

Bielema_Bret_IND_2011.jpgBadgers' head coach Bret Bielema is entering his seventh season patrolling UW's sidelines. While that may not sound like much, he is already the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big Ten (trailing only Iowa's Kirk Ferentz). Among the 66 BCS schools, only 12 coaches (Frank Beamer - Virginia Tech, Mack Brown - Texas, Ferentz, Bob Stoops - Oklahoma, Jim Grobe - Wake Forest, Gary Pinkel - Missouri, Mark Richt - Georgia, Jeff Tedford - California, Mike Riley - Oregon State, Mike Gundy - Oklahoma State, Steve Spurrier - South Carolina and Les Miles - LSU) have been in their current roles longer than Bielema.

With that as a backdrop, we felt it was a good time to take a look back and see what would happen if we took the best players from the past six seasons and lined them up on one team. A number of spirited debates come to mind. Who plays left tackle, Gabe Carimi or Joe Thomas? Which 1,000-yard rusher do you prefer, P.J. Hill, John Clay or Montee Ball? Who do you want directing the offense, John Stocco, Scott Tolzien or Russell Wilson? What's your preference at linebacker, Jonathan Casillas, DeAndre Levy, Mike Taylor or Chris Borland?

Since 2006, UW has produced some great football players. Sixteen different players have earned All-America honors, with 11 of them being named first-team All-Americans. The Badgers have had finalists for the Heisman Trophy, Doak Walker Award, John Mackey Award, Rimington Trophy, Ted Hendricks Award, Manning Award and Lou Groza Award. In addition, Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Watt won the Lott IMPACT trophy, and Carimi and Thomas both won the Outland Trophy.

Nineteen Badgers that played for Bielema were on NFL rosters at the end of the 2011 season. In five NFL drafts, 16 UW players have been taken and this year Wisconsin had eight players invited to the NFL Scouting Combine, the most in school history and the second-most in the country.

So instead of just coming up with a team on our own and have people question our thought process, we wanted to open it up to fans to pick the team. Starting today (Monday, Feb. 20) fans will be able to vote on the Wisconsin Football Facebook page. Each day until Sunday, March 11, a different poll will be revealed asking for the fans' choice at a different position. Fans can also vote on Twitter using the hashtag #AllBielemaTeam (follow @BadgerFootball).

After compiling all the votes, the All-Bielema team will be announced in the March 15 edition of 'Varsity' the official online magazine of Wisconsin Athletics.

Vote early and often!

Lucas at Large: Road a challenging one for Healy and her Badgers

SB_120219_Healy_Yvette.jpegThe schedule is daunting: six road weekends and 26 games before the home opener.

"Fatigue is definitely something you have to consider,'' said second-year Wisconsin softball coach Yvette Healy. "Our season is long, it's a marathon.

"It's important to play well every game, but it's more about improvement --  seeing where you match up (early in the season) -- and working on the game plan to get better.''

After winning 30 games last season -- a victory total that has been reached only five previous times in school history -- the expectations are higher than normal for the Badgers, who began their daunting road stretch this weekend at South Florida's tournament in Tampa.

Sustaining that success is the challenge for Healy, who has already taken some positive strides in changing the culture of the program. By her own admission, she knows her work has just begun.

"We did create some momentum last season,'' she said. "But the fact that we had so many come-from-behind wins, half of our victories, you know that those could easily go the other direction.

"It's really going to be a challenging year for the team and our staff. But we're going into it with our eyes wide open. It's not going to be simple to walk in and replicate what we did last year.''

The Badgers, who were 30-23 overall and 9-11 in the Big Ten, return eight starters and all three pitchers. But they must replace center fielder Jennifer Krueger; a difference-maker on the base paths.

Citing the vagaries of her sport, Healy said, "It's such a fickle game. It's so much about getting the right hop here or there. We were fortunate last year, but we created some of that magic, too.''

At the moment, injuries are an issue. "We've got more than last year at this time,'' she said.

Karla Powell, Molly Spence, Mary Massei and Cassandra Darrah are four key pieces to the puzzle, and each has been forced to overcome physical hurdles leading up to the spring competition.

Given the All-Big Ten value in a majority of the cases, Healy won't rush anyone. "This first weekend,'' she said, "is about managing to keep our talent healthy and easing them back in, too.''

Nonetheless, there's an anticipation level with the opening games.

"Everybody wants to see how you match up,'' Healy agreed. "It's a good litmus test to let you know what else you need to work on. The first weekend doesn't make or break you.

"But it sets the tone for realizing how good you can be, or how much harder you have to work.''

Much of the out-of-season work has been centered on conditioning.  Healy pointed out that strength coach Stephanie Housh "makes it sport-specific'' and has "done a phenomenal job.''

"We've gotten a little creative on the coaching end, too,'' Healy went on. "We've tried not to have as much down time that you typically see in a baseball game or a softball practice.''
To the extent, she said, where "they are swinging and not breaking a sweat.''

That creativity has resulted in the use of jump ropes and medicine balls. "We're making our team get physically drained,'' she said, "in addition to having to perform those high-level hitting skills.''

A year of maturity should benefit the returning players. "We didn't add a ton to the program,'' said Healy, who also retained her staff. "We brought in just one recruited player this season.''

That has piqued her interest to see how it all comes together. Healy singled out sophomore shortstop Stephanie Peace for having the potential and the "ability to be a marquee player.''

Meghan McIntosh will anchor the pitching staff. "She has worked hard in the off-season, gotten healthy and shown leadership,'' Healy said. "It'll be interesting to see if you can put it all together.''

What does Healy want to see out of her team by the end of the month?

"We'll want to see our pitchers keeping us in games; our pitchers having command,'' she said. "Giving us a chance to win every single game is a really big thing.

"From an offensive standpoint, I think we have a lot of balance and I'm hoping we take a good aggressive approach -- I want to see our speed and power come together.

"I hope we can come out of the gate really strong and create some energy. The first couple of weeks, I want to show how excited we are to get out of the cold and get on the dirt (the diamond).

"I want to start setting the tone for the season.''

Lucas at Large: Breslin Center a baptism for Kaminsky

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Bloody but unbowed has been a cliche but apt metaphor for the Wisconsin-Michigan State series. Whenever these rivals meet, it seems, there's figuratively some blood spilt.

That doesn't include the occasional bad blood that has existed over the past decade.

After Thursday's slugfest, UW junior Jared Berggren was sporting five stitches under his chin. At one point, Berggren's blood had to be literally wiped off the court after the wound reopened.

Kaminsky_Frank_UWM_2011-12_Ament.jpgThere may be no better classroom in the Big Ten than the Breslin Center. After the 69-55 loss in East Lansing, Mich., Berggren conceded, "There's a lot to learn from."

Frank Kaminsky was in lockstep with Berggren's thinking.

"A game like this really teaches you what you need to improve on," said Kaminsky, the 6-foot-11, 230-pound freshman center from Lisle, Ill. "I'm going to take a lot away from this."

This was just another chapter in Kaminsky's orientation to the Big Ten. On this night, the teaching assistants were 6-9, 270-pound Derrick Nix and 6-10, 240-pound Adreian Payne.

"I learned how to fight back," Kaminsky said. "If they're pushing, you've got to push right back. You can't let down at any point in the game or they will take advantage of you.

"Everyone is big, everyone is strong. You have to neutralize their strength somehow. You've got to be smarter about the plays that you can go out there and make. That's what I'm learning right now."

There was one sequence where Nix was able to school Kaminsky on the low post. "They exploited me a little bit on defense," Kaminsky admitted. "I have to work harder."

Despite a baptism under fire to the raucous Izzone environment - not to mention dealing with MSU's imposing frontline, which also includes Draymond Green - Kaminsky did some good things.

While playing a Big Ten-high 12 minutes, Kaminsky grabbed a career-high six rebounds.

Speaking to the rebounding total which was split evenly (three each) between the offensive and defensive glass, UW associate head coach Greg Gard said, "I thought he was active that way."

Moreover, he noticed, "I don't think Frank was out of his element in any way."

On one possession, Gard said Kaminsky turned down a shot in transition that he needed to take. He also took a shot at the end of the clock when he could have kicked and gotten a better one.

His decision-making will improve with more experience, Gard implied.

But it's the physical part of the game that needs to be addressed during the off-season.

"Physically, he's adequate, but he's not where he needs to be," Gard said. "He needs another year of conditioning and weight lifting. He needs to change and reconfigure his body a little."

That's all part of getting a Big Ten education, particularly for a first-year player.

Nobody exposes you quicker than Michigan State, either.

"Enjoying and embracing the physical nature of the game is one thing that freshmen don't quite understand until they go through it a time or two," Gard said.

"Thursday's game will be a good reference point for Frank because now he has some understanding on why he needs to get stronger and the benefits that he can derive from it.

"We're so adamant about imposing your will and not backing down. That goes along with the fact we're always talking about playing physical without fouling; all the things that really good teams do.

"Maybe this knowledge will help him push through another set of squats in the weight room. Or maybe it will drive him to go a little harder when he's running the hill, whatever it may be."

Nix's steady development can be a case study for others in the conference. Since he weighed 340 pounds in high school, he has been reshaping his body. He's now down to 270.

Nix averaged only eight minutes of playing time his first two seasons with the Spartans. He's now up to 19, and he has become an integral contributor to the team's success around the rim.
    
What are the chances that the UW's Evan Anderson could play that role in the future? The 6-10, 260-pound Anderson, a redshirt freshman Eau Claire North, definitely has appealing size and strength.

"I think he's almost at the point where he can play right now and help," Gard said. "I really liked what I've seen. Not everything is perfect but he has a competitive fire about him.

"Evan has a little bit of a nasty edge. He just has to learn to polish up that nastiness to where he's not fouling all the time. But I don't see any reason why he can't come along the same path as Nix.

"He's a huge body and he loves to play physical. We need more of that."

During Wednesday night's practice at the Breslin Center, UW coach Bo Ryan was not satisfied with the work of his "bigs" so he pulled Anderson off the scout team and had him run with the starters.

"Some experience will do wonders for him," Gard said. "When he has been with me on the scout team, you can park him on the block and do some of the things Michigan State does (with Nix).

"There's no reason why he can't play for us down the road, if not sooner. He's never going to be light of foot or a leaper. But I see bigs across the country that aren't that way but they're effective.

"Hopefully we can get to the point with Evan where we can get him into the game for short spurts. It doesn't have to be eight minutes at a time - but a minute here and two minutes there."
   
That would apply, Gard suggested, "Whether he sinks or swims."

Which, he added, is the only way you learn how to swim.

Just ask Kaminsky who got his feet wet Thursday night in the shark tank.

Lucas at Large: Daubenspeck a truly grateful survivor

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First appeared in Varsity

There are moments when Kirk Daubenspeck can't help but stop and ponder his fate. When he does, he reaches out to his wife Peggy and their two kids: Axel, 2, and Elsa, 4 months.

"A lot of times I will stop and pause for 30 seconds and give them a huge hug,'' said the former UW goaltender. "I'm almost in tears every time I do it right now.''

Looking ahead to Friday night when he will be recognized before the Denver-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center, he admitted, "I'm sure I will have to fight back tears, or not even fight them back at all.''

There may be no more fitting recognition of Daubenspeck's fighting spirit than the fact that he will be dropping the puck at center ice in a ceremonial faceoff between the Pioneers and the Badgers.

MHKY_120217_Daubenspeck_Kirk.jpgA year ago to the day -- Feb. 17, 2011 -- he was involved in a frightening car-truck accident near Dodgeville that left him in a coma due to a severe brain injury.

The very next day, there was enough concern about his welfare that a moment of silence was observed before the start of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game at the Kohl Center.

Daubenspeck, a medical equipment salesman, was planning on attending that series opener against the Gophers with two of his former UW teammates: Mark Strobel and Jamie Spencer.

Following the accident, nobody knew when or even if he would come out of the coma. Strobel left the ticket stub from the game in Daubenspeck's hospital room.

"I told Dauber to give it back to me,'' Strobel said, "when he comes out of this.''

That should bring context to how far he has traveled in a year and why the simple function of walking on to the ice will have so much more meaning for him.

"Not too often in my (hockey-playing career) have I accepted an honor like this with as much pride as I have now,'' said Daubenspeck, 37. "It's going to be real special.''

Then again, he noted, "Everything is that much more special obviously when you get to the brink like I did." Especially, he added, "Knowing what the alternative could be.''

What he doesn't know won't hurt him, either. That would be his response to any probing about that fateful morning and what he remembers. "I really don't have any memories,'' he said.

But he hasn't forgotten the people who provided support -- emotionally and financially -- throughout the hockey community and beyond.

In this light, Daubenspeck singled out his wife Peggy for "being such a rock'' and keeping the family together during some trying moments when there were more questions than answers.

"Our parents and siblings have also been phenomenal,'' he emphasized. "And I don't want to undermine the appreciativeness for all of these people that I had beforehand.'

"But, boy, oh boy, it's a different kind of gratefulness now, that's for sure.''

He learned something important from all of this, too, if he didn't already know it. "Surround yourself with great people because it pays dividends,'' he said.

Physically, he estimated that he's about 60 to 70 percent of the way back. Keep in mind that he always raised the bar very high for himself and "what I'm used to is higher than the outside world.''

Daubenspeck's standards were those of an All-America goaltender for the Badgers.

"But there have been little things I'm not used to,'' he said. "Like my speech, not being able to express my true feelings and having things on the tip of my tongue. I'm not at the level I was before.

"But if you saw me walking on the street or talked to me in a restaurant, you probably wouldn't notice a huge difference or notice too much different about me.''

He's the same old Dauber who always loved listening to the Grateful Dead. Except that he's more grateful than ever.

"I truly feel like there's a family-type atmosphere here at Wisconsin,'' Daubenspeck said, "and everyone has proven that to me -- not that they had to prove it.

"Maybe I'm just more appreciative."

Is Taylor still in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year?

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MBB_POY_sm.jpgAs the regular season winds down, the annual postseason award debates will ramp up all over college basketball. The Big Ten Player of the Year race is coming into focus, but the final six games could go a long way in deciding the winner.

As a preseason All-America and All-Big Ten selection, senior Jordan Taylor's name has been on the conference player of the year short list since November.

However, after seeing a dip in his scoring from last season, Taylor's name probably isn't at the top of anyone's list. But is it close?

Looking at the current player of the year lists from three writers who cover the Big Ten -- Sporting News' Mike DeCourcey, ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf  and BTN.com's Tom Dienhart -- each have Taylor third in the running behind Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Michigan State's Draymond Green.

That sounds fair considering the raw numbers during conference play:
• Sullinger (18.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
• Green (14.6 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.5 apg)
• Taylor (17.0 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.3 apg)

Perhaps the overall conference race will play as big of a factor as any in the player of the year voting.

If Wisconsin (which sits 1.0 game out of first place behind the Buckeyes and Spartans) can finish as Big Ten champions, it would be pretty hard to argue that any player is more valuable to his team's success than Taylor.

Taylor and the Badgers have two head-to-head opportunities with MSU and OSU to prove their worth. That starts Thursday in East Lansing.

Lucas at Large: Shooting guards look to live up to their name

Gasser_Josh_Colgate_2011-12_RLD (2)_CROP.jpgType-casting is a big part of basketball - it's as simple as one, two, three.

The one is the point guard, the two is the shooting guard, the three is the small forward.

So when did the "shooting guard" become a part of the lexicon for Josh Gasser?

"Ever since the second or third grade when you started playing organized basketball and you always heard the term, 'Shooting guard,"' said Gasser, a UW sophomore, and shooting guard.

"You always knew what that position was - usually a scorer or someone who could handle the ball and do a little bit of everything. Probably the first shooting guard I looked up to was Ray Allen."

In most circles, Jordan Taylor is viewed as a point guard or lead guard. The shooting guards, or the two guards, are Gasser, Ben Brust and Rob Wilson. Or not.

"The good thing with us," Gasser said of coach Bo Ryan's system at Wisconsin, "is that we don't really specify that you're the shooting guard or you're whatever."

At this level of competition, he suggested that your game has to be well-rounded.

When Brust was asked if he could remember the first time that someone used the expression shooting guard in his company, he said, "It was at an age when you really don't remember things."

Does Brust look at himself as a shooting guard?

"I'm a guard," he said. "I think I'm more than a shooting - closed quotation - guard. I guess it's always been brought up as the two-guard being known as the shooting guard.

"But I just like to be known as a guard who can do a little bit of everything, if possible."

The genesis for the discussion on shooting guards was the Ohio State loss.

Gasser, Brust and Wilson combined for only two points against the Buckeyes.

UW associate head coach Greg Gard addressed that result before the Minnesota game.

Brust_Ben_Colgate_2011-12_CROP.jpg"We've got three guys who have played that position and who are capable of putting the ball in the basket at a higher rate than what they've done," he said. "All of them need to be more aggressive."

Each of the players has taken that to heart, too.

"In Josh's case, he's getting a lot of minutes (37.5 per Big Ten game)," Gard went on. "But his attempts to score per minute have been pretty low. It's something we've talked about."

Gasser responded by driving the ball at every opportunity against the Gophers.

"I did try to be a little more aggressive," said Gasser, who finished with nine points, four assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes. "I found lanes that were open for me early in the game.

"Towards the end, I also found myself attacking and good things wound up happening - not only for myself but for my teammates.

"Even in overtime, when I penetrated and missed the lay-up, Ryan (Evans) got the offensive rebound and the put-back that really helped us extend our lead.

"I definitely made a conscious effort (to be more aggressive) and it worked out. We have to have all five guys being aggressive and attacking and looking to create for ourselves or teammates.

"Usually good things happen when we do that."

That was Gard's point for all three shooting guards.

"We've been trying to get Ben to be more diverse in his game," Gard said, "by attacking more and making plays for himself or others off the dribble while not being so reliant on the 3 (point shot).

"For Rob, it's just a matter of consistency and playing at a high level when he gets in there."
    
Brust agreed with Gard's overall assessment. "There are times where all the guards on the team have opportunities and we've got to be more aggressive with them," he said.

What about his reliance on shooting from beyond the 3-point arc?

Fifty-one of his 78 attempts have come from that distance in Big Ten games.

"I think I can maybe do some different things than just shoot and I may have been relying on that (the 3-point shot) too much recently," Brust said.

There have been times when Brust has been accused of "going too fast" by the coaches.

"Instead of just reading and reacting, you're reading and reacting too fast," Brust acknowledged. "You have to do it fast. But you have to do it with a calm fast. If that makes sense."

It does to Gard who sees the advantages of getting his shooting guards on track - in a hurry.

"We haven't had two out of three be consistent in the same game yet," Gard said. "As we go through the latter half of the season and into postseason play, we've got to have that group mature.

"If we could get a dozen points or 16 points out of the three guards combined that would be great. That's not asking anyone to even get double-figures.

"They have to play to make something happen - not play to not make a mistake. They're all good enough players and they've all done it at some point in their careers.

"Sometimes it's a matter of confidence and having it happen a few times. If it does happen, then it will open some doors for all three of them to be more aggressive in the future."

The Voice: Unlikely champs set stage for Ryan era

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgThis Sunday, the University of Wisconsin will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the basketball team's first Big Ten title in 55 years.  Let me confess to you how smart I was about that group. Before the season began, I wondered whether it could win 10 games.

There was a new coaching staff. A couple of players left the program. Promising freshman Latrell Fleming had to give up the sport because of a heart condition. Another freshman, Andreas Helmigk, blew out his knee in training camp. People wondered whether a shooter such as Kirk Penney could have success in Bo Ryan's system.

There was reason to be excited about a freshman named Devin Harris, but how good would he be in his rookie season?

The seniors on that team were Charlie Wills and Trevon Davis. The previous season, Wills averaged 4.2 points per game, and Davis chipped in with 2.2. There were some who labeled Davis as a hard-nosed but turnover prone player. How would the point guard handle Ryan, and vice versa?

Early in the season, the critics seemed fairly smart. The travel schedule was brutal, with a road trip to Las Vegas, followed by a flight to Hilo, Hawaii. The team returned to Madison for a day, and then it was off to Atlanta for a date with Georgia Tech.

At the end of that stretch, the Badgers were 1-4. They dropped six of their first nine games, but as the non-conference season moved along, the players started to understand what Bo and his staff expected.

They blitzed a Dwayne Wade-led Marquette team, 86-63, slipped past UW-Milwaukee and held off a solid Tennessee squad, 65-62.

In a crazy Big Ten season, no team really took hold of the league. By early February, the Badgers got hot, beginning with an overtime decision against 16th-ranked Ohio State. It started a six-game winning streak to close the regular season.

Two years before, Badger fans witnessed the incredible run to the Final Four. Keep in mind they finished sixth in the Big Ten.

After that season, perhaps many observers figured Wisconsin basketball would return to the background. Obviously, the Badgers have done the opposite.

On Feb. 27, 2002, the Badgers had a celebration. They pounded Michigan 74-54, giving the fans a chance to rush the floor, and giving Bo and his players a chance to cut down the nets.

The 2001-02 team was low on healthy bodies, but it was a team with impressive scoring balance, led by Penney's 15 points per game. Harris and Wills also averaged in double figures. Mike Wilkinson was right behind them.

Freddie Owens hit a game-winner at Michigan State that snapped the Spartans' home winning streak at 53 games.

Davis was more than solid at point guard, averaging 7.8 points a game and 4.3 rebounds. Dave Mader also started every game, giving his team valuable minutes with his size.

It will be good to see those who can make it to Madison this weekend. Wisconsin basketball has come a long way in a fairly short time.

Yes,  it was 55 years between Big Ten titles, but once the Badgers won that trophy in Bo's first year, opponents have found them very difficult to beat.

The Badgers of 10 years ago sent a little notice to the college basketball world that they planned to be a factor for awhile, and that certainly has been the case.

The 2001-02 season was amazing to witness, and I was very pleased that my preseason inkling was so off target.

You want to know the best part about the Badgers having a 10-year championship reunion?

They get to have another one next year.

Women's track vaults into national rankings

WTRK_120214_Jakutyte_Monika.jpg

A big weekend for the Wisconsin women's track and field team has translated into a big jump in the rankings.

The Badgers moved all the way to No. 16 in this week's edition of the national rankings compiled by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, which were released Tuesday.

UW leapt 13 spots from its No. 29 ranking last week largely on the strength of junior Taylor Smith's school-record effort in the weight throw. Smith, named Big Ten co-Field Athlete of the Week on Monday, launched a throw of 69 feet, 10 3/4 inches to win the event at Saturday's UW-Platteville Invitational.

The mark vaulted Smith to No. 5 nationally in the event and automatically secured her a spot in next month's NCAA indoor championships.

Because the USTFCCCA's rankings are based solely on athletes' national rankings, Smith's toss buoyed the Badgers.

Also supporting Wisconsin's rank is senior Monika Jakutyte, who ranks in a tie for fourth place nationally in the high jump with the clearance of 6 feet she recorded on Feb. 3.

In addition, senior and three-time All-American Dorcas Akinniyi is currently ranked No. 8 in the pentathlon after scoring 3,991 points on Feb. 3.

The Badgers' other top-25 ranked athletes include the trio of Smith (18th, 53-7 3/4), freshman Kelsey Card (17th, 53-6 1/2) and sophomore Jasmine Boyer (T-26th, 52-2 3/4) in the shot put.

Additionally, senior Caitlin Comfort is ranked 18th in the 5000 meters (16:07.90), while junior Jessica Flax stacks up No. 25 in the pentathlon (3,789 points).

Men slip out of rankings
On the men's side, the Badgers slipped out of the rankings after moving up to No. 17 last week. That's despite the effort of sophomore Dan Block, who threw 61-7 1/2 in the shot put to move up to the No. 10 spot nationally over the weekend.

Sophomore Japheth Cato, who is No. 3 in the heptathlon with his Big Ten-record total of 5,939 points, is UW's other top-10 ranked athlete.

The Badgers also picked up top-25 performances from sophomore Alex Hatz in the mile (13th, 3:58.68) and junior Maverick Darling in the 3000 meters (22nd, 7:54.70) over the weekend.
Hammock_Thomas_Purdue_2011.jpgRunning backs coach Thomas Hammock, for one, is no stranger to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who coached him at Northern Illinois.

"The greatest compliment a player can give to a coach is to recommend him,'' said Hammock, a former 1,000-yard rusher who had to give up football because of a heart conditioning.

"There were times when I was a player where I didn't understand why we were doing things or why I had to run 50 yards and everyone else ran 20.

"But as you get older those things that he (Canada) taught me at a young age carried over as far as the type of person and coach that I am now.''

By the sounds of it, Hammock is already on the same wavelength with offensive line coach Mike Markuson. That is critical since Hammock is responsible for coaching Wisconsin's running backs.

"He loves to run the ball which I'm sure my guys are going to be happy about,'' Hammock said. "I'm anxious to get started on putting together a playbook and building our offense for next season.''

Having Montee Ball return for his senior year is a tremendous starting point, of course.

"My philosophy is not going to change and I explained that to Montee,'' Hammock said. "You have to go back out there and earn it - it's the 'What have you done for me lately?' approach.
    
"I know Montee is going to take the challenge, along with some of other guys. You've got James White, who wants a bigger piece of the pie and Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis competing on a daily basis.

"You definitely have to have a plan of attack and I expressed that to the whole group. I talked to them about everyone starting from ground zero, which is no different from a year ago at this time.''

How much, if at all, will the Badgers expose Ball to contact during spring practice?

"We practice so hard and with so much intensity,'' Hammock said, "to me that can override a lot of things to where maybe Montee doesn't have to get tackled in the spring.''

The Badgers have been known for a high practice tempo that precludes scrimmaging.

"I told Montee, 'You're going to get a lot of reps this spring because you came back (to Wisconsin) to get better; you didn't come back to just stay the same,''' Hammock related.

"The only way to do that is go out there every day and do the work to improve.''

What about working Ball and White into the same formation?

What about maximizing the depth at the tailback position?

"We lost a lot of key pieces from last season (Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing) so you try to find ways to fill that production,'' Hammock said.

"I thought the way we (the running backs) were used in the passing game was really, really good. We went from 30 catches to 60 and we can go from 60 to 90. That's an area we can help the team.

"Maybe in different ways that involves using guys out of the backfield or lining up at wide receiver. All that stuff is down the line as we continue to develop and mold the playbook.''
 

The Voice: A college football playoff? Count me in

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgSome random thoughts from someone who is thrilled that Travis Beckum will get a Super Bowl ring, but is disappointed for him that the price to pay includes a torn ACL:

We're talking about playoffs
Is college football one step closer to a four-team playoff?  Earlier this week the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein reported Big Ten officials are tossing around the thoughts of taking the top four teams in the final BCS poll and having them meet in semifinal games, with the higher-ranked squads earning home field advantage.  

The winners would meet for the national championship at a site determined through a bid process.

Last month, BCS Executive Director Bill Hancock said schools are looking at 50 to 60 different postseason plans, but this latest nugget sounds plenty intriguing to me.  

The current BCS postseason agreement runs through the 2014 season, but perhaps the Big Ten, which as a conference has been anti-playoff, is ready to change its tune. To some, it might not include enough teams, but count me in as being in favor of this step.

I like the possibility of an SEC team travelling north to play a big game. Now, let us just wait and see whether it happens.  

Leuer making an impact
I don't know about you, but I find myself trying to watch a little more of the Milwaukee Bucks this season. The reason is Jon Leuer. Yes, the Bucks have been wildly inconsistent.  

It also is true that here in Madison, interest in the NBA, and specifically the Bucks, appears to be choppy at best.

But it is fun for me to watch a former Badger standout who has put together some pretty good games in his rookie season.

While doing a little channel surfing last Saturday night, I caught some of their game with the Bulls.  It was a long night for the Bucks, but I appreciated hearing Bulls color analyst and former player Stacey King praise Leuer, calling him a very good addition to the team.

Maturi will be missed
Sticking with hoops, on Thursday night the Badgers will play the Gophers at Williams Arena, AKA, "The Barn." It will be good to see Joel Maturi, who this summer will retire as the University of Minnesota's athletics director.

Maturi has been the target of some harsh criticism in the Twin Cities, but it is clear he walked into a difficult environment. Perhaps the crown jewel of Maturi's 10 years as Minnesota's AD is TCF Bank Stadium, the football home for the Gophers.

Above all else, Joel Maturi simply is one of the good guys in college athletics. In the late 1990s, when he was the AD at the University of Denver, Maturi wanted to hire someone named Bo Ryan. Apparently, university officials had other ideas, so the move never happened.

Interesting how things work out sometimes, right?

Eddie earned his return
Finally, welcome back Eddie Faulkner. Football coach Bret Bielema hired the former Badgers tailback to be the team's tight ends coach.

In his playing days, Faulkner would step in for Ron Dayne and Michael Bennett, and the team recognized his value.

For me, the first memory that jumps out is Faulkner's game-winning touchdown in overtime to beat Cincinnati in 2000.

It was a clutch performance by a player who understood and accepted his role.

It is good to see Eddie Faulkner establish himself as a respected coach. It is even better that he gets to return to his alma mater.

Eight Badgers continue 'Path to the Draft' at combine

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Alabama and LSU were pretty good last year. I think most rational people will agree on that. To be a good team, you need good players. Again, pretty much a no-brainer. And if you are a good player in college, you will go on to play in the NFL. A pretty simple equation. Good college teams have good players who move on to the NFL.

So it shouldn't come as a huge shock that Alabama had the most players (9) invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. Nor should anyone be surprised that LSU was tied for second with eight players. Here's where the script deviates a little. One of three teams LSU is tied with is Wisconsin. While that may give some people pause, it shouldn't.

Six players from UW's record-breaking 2011 offense are heading to Indianapolis. That is the most offensive players from one school. Included in that group are three offensive linemen. Wisconsin has a long tradition of producing NFL caliber o-linemen and just last year had three drafted (Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and Bill Nagy) each of whom started for their respective teams on opening weekend.

The Badgers have won back-to-back Big Ten titles and to do that, you need some talent. Looking at the players who made the jump to the NFL last year and those preparing to do so this year tells you a little about just how talented they were.

Last year, six Badgers were invited to the combine, five were drafted, a total of 12 were in NFL camps when they kicked off in July and eight of them stuck with NFL teams. A total of 23 former Badgers were under NFL contract last season, a number that should grow this year.

Kirk_Cousins_Handoff.jpgOf the eight Badgers invited to the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, offensive linemen Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler look to be the highest-rated. After that, QB Russell Wilson intrigues a lot of teams with his athleticism and makeup. WR Nick Toon is a big body with good hands. FB Bradie Ewing can do a little bit of everything and is a beast on special teams, something that should earn him a long look at the next level.

As Coach Bielema said a number of times, you just don't see that many people the size of OT Josh Oglesby walking around, even at the NFL level. CB Antonio Fenelus may be a bit undersized but UW's defensive coaches will tell you he has been the Badgers' best player on that side of the ball the last two seasons. Lastly, P Brad Nortman impressed a lot of folks with a good week and good performance at the Senior Bowl.

While they weren't invited to the combine, S Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch, LS Kyle Wojta, DT Patrick Butrym and DE Louis Nzegwu all have shots to be late-round picks or free agent pick-ups.  

All five former Badgers drafted in 2011 started for their teams last year, combining to log 41 starts. That number would have been much higher had Carimi, Moffitt and Nagy not all suffered season-ending injuries. This year's class looks to have a similar impact.

Badgers at the NFL Scouting Combine
Bradie Ewing (RB08)
Antonio Fenelus (DB13)
Peter Konz (OL26)
Brad Nortman (PK06)
Josh Oglesby (OL38)
Nick Toon (WO43)
Russell Wilson (QB18)
Kevin Zeitler (OL54)

Schools with most players at 2012 NFL Scouting Combine
Alabama - 9
Wisconsin - 8
LSU - 8
Georgia - 8
Miami - 8
Traevon Jackson agreed to page through his photo album; committed to memory or otherwise.

In one snapshot, he's pictured with his fourth- and fifth-grade teammates: Trey Burke, now a freshman point guard at Michigan, and Jared Sullinger, now a sophomore All-American at Ohio State. (That's Jackson at far left in the front row and Sullinger at far right in the back row).

120204_MBB_Jackson_Traevon_AAU.jpg"We were all on the same team along with Adam Griffin (one of Archie's kid),'' said Jackson, a UW freshman. "He (Sullinger) used to eat at McDonald's every day and come out and shoot 3s.

"He was in fifth grade and only about 5-9; but he was big and chubby. Now, he's in great shape (6-9, 280). He's obviously improved his body a lot. He's a great player. He was still good then.''

There's a second snapshot of Jackson; a more recent one from last February.

Picture him in Wisconsin colors working the cash register and bagging groceries.  During his senior year at Westerville (Ohio) South High School, he held a part-time job at a grocery store.

On this particular day -- Feb 12, 2011 -- the store employees were encouraged to honor their favorite college team. Since Jackson was committed to being a Badger, he represented accordingly.

Everybody else was in Ohio State colors.

"Everybody else in the store was sad,'' Jackson said, "except me.''

That was the day that the Badgers beat the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes at the Kohl Center. Jackson listened to the game on the radio and then raced home after work and watched the TV highlights.

"That was big,'' he said with a big grin.

Jackson will have a front row seat -- on the UW bench -- for Saturday's matchup against No. 3 Ohio State. Although his playing time has been limited, he will continue to prepare like he's a starter.

"That's the toughest thing going into games knowing that you may not step on the court,'' Jackson said, "but knowing in the back of your head that you've got to be ready.''

Jackson last played on Jan. 18 against Northwestern.

Overall, he's seen action in only 12 of 23 games.

"I honestly thought I'd be playing a little more,'' said Jackson. "But that's not the case. We've got guys ahead of me: Rob (Wilson) who's a senior and Ben (Brust) who has put in his time as well.

"You've got to respect that and just be ready whenever your time comes.''

A year ago, Brust went through the same freshman transition that Jackson is going through now. Brust played in just 15 of 34 games. He got fewer minutes (45) than Jackson already has seen (89).

This season, Brust has become a key contributor in the "sixth man'' role.

"He has obviously been a huge part of our success,'' Jackson said.  "He stretches the defense. We need that. He's a guy who can come off the bench and create and knock down shots.

"Ben put in his work and his time came to perform (this year).

"That's what I've got to do (perform) when my time comes.''

During Thursday's practice, Jackson was wearing a white jersey -- which is worn by the starters and the top reserves. Wilson had a class and, in his absence, Jackson took his place in the rotation.

At one point, UW coach Bo Ryan teased Jackson about socializing with the scout team.

"Tomorrow, I will be back to the scout team,'' Jackson said afterward. "But it was nice today to see where you want to be in the future. You can show off your skill set while you're with the first team.''

Gearing up physically and mentally for every practice has been a part of Jackson's adjustment.

"It's a grind and you definitely have to be committed to it 100 percent,'' he said. "You have to have your focus every day. That's the biggest thing -- being consistent and giving that effort every day.''

Realistically, he conceded, it's just human nature to slough off sometimes. "But you have to push through things that you're not used to doing,'' he said.

That's part of the maturing process, Jackson added.

"The biggest key is mental toughness,'' he said. "To me, it means fighting through adversity when things aren't going right. You have to find a way to make it right -- regardless.

"If you're not hitting shots some days, you have to find other ways to get involved in the game. You have to find ways to stay active and not get down on yourself.

"You might not be playing some games. But you still have to find that desire and toughness to come back every day and get better by staying in the gym.''

Jackson feels like his game has definitely gotten better this season.

"I'm working daily on my ball-handling, working on my shooting, working on things that I feel  I can bring to the team,'' he said. "As long as I'm doing these things when my time comes I'll be fine.''

The older, more experienced players have been supportive while reminding Jackson that "It's just a process -- some of them went through it -- and they just tell you to keep working'' in practice.

"That all goes back to being ready,'' Jackson said. "God forbid, if Rob or Ben got hurt, I'd have to be ready. Or, if they get in foul trouble, I'd have to be ready. That's the way I've prepared.''

Nobody is better prepared to simulate Ohio State on the scout team than Jackson, who has played with or against Sullinger, Jordan Sibert, J.D. Weatherspoon and LaQuinton Ross.

On the AAU circuit, he's also crossed paths with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson.

"I pretty much know all of their games,'' Jackson said.

By his own admission, he will likely get more emotional in late February when Wisconsin and Ohio State play in Columbus because there will be a lot of family and friends in attendance.

Picture this: Traevon Jackson playing in the same arena where his dad's jersey is one of the retired numbers hanging from the rafters. Jim Jackson was a two-time All-American at Ohio State.

For now, though, his only focus is Saturday's game against the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.

"I'm a Badger,'' he said. "We've got to beat them regardless of where my hometown is.''
As the lone holdover on the offensive coaching staff, Thomas Hammock felt an obvious urgency to hold recruiting together with defensive assistants Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash.

More to the point, Hammock said, "We were just trying to do the best we could to hold on and keep this thing moving forward for our kids in the program and the kids we were trying to get.''
    
That entailed, he said, "Mapping out a plan and seeing the kids we needed to see'' from the standpoint of "making sure we allocated our time and resources appropriately'' on home visits.

As the interim recruiting coordinator, Partridge suggested, "I won't say it was survival mode, but it was right on the edge of it - you're making sure you're hitting and covering all of your bases.''

Partridge was invaluable in this capacity.

"Charlie is great at organizational skills,'' said UW head coach Bret Bielema.

Partridge's resume includes a two-year stint as the director of football operations at Iowa State.

"My mind is very grid-oriented,'' he said. "I'm a mathematical-type guy.''

That led to making sure there was a list and everything was prioritized.

"We really got into that mode where every important kid in this class was getting hit and getting hit by the right person,'' he said. "Thomas and Chris did a great job.''

There were also significant contributions from the staff underlings:  graduate assistants Ben Strickland and Luke Swan and quality control coordinators Bart Miller and Terrance Jamison.

Strickland has since been promoted to a full-time position.

"Putting those four guys on the road was a great opportunity for them and they came through in flying colors,'' Partridge said. "The in-state (prep) coaches talked about how great of a job they did.

"I'm so proud of them for that.''

Besides laying the groundwork for this season's preferred walk-ons, Partridge noted, "Every staff in the country is getting ahead on junior recruiting and we didn't want to lose ground there.''

The Badgers signed 12 players on Wednesday.

"I think it was a blessing in disguise that it was a small class,'' Bielema admitted. "If you were dealing with a class of 22 or 23, it would have been, I think, a real challenge (to hold the class together).''

Ash had experienced similar circumstances at previous coaching stops.

"Been there before, done it before, so it wasn't anything that was really unexpected for me,'' he said. "You've got to be on the same page, you've got to be organized and you can't waste time.

"There's no down time at all. You're on the go all the time. It's pretty much non-stop. But that's why we're each in this profession. I love meeting people, I love to travel, and I love the university here.

"January is always hectic and crazy as you're coming down to the wire with recruiting. When you're shorthanded with staff, it just means you have to get to a few more places in a few less days.''

With the signing of safety D.J. Singleton, the Badgers were able to reopen the door to New Jersey, which has historically been a very fertile recruiting area for the UW program. QB Joe Brennan and TE/FB Sherard Cadogan will both be redshirt sophomores next year.

"This was my first year recruiting there (New Jersey),'' Hammock acknowledged. "But one thing I've always believed is that if you can recruit, you can recruit anywhere.

"Wisconsin is a great brand to a lot of people out East. We had a small class overall this year and the number of kids we offered was smaller but we're certainly making progress (in that region).''

Throughout the recruiting period, Hammock reassured high school prospects and coaches that "Wisconsin is a program that has been doing well for a long time and that's not going to change.''

In the end, Hammock stressed, the objective was to send the message to each recruit that "You're going to be a key piece to the puzzle as we try to win another Big Ten championship.''

That recruiting pitch never gets old.

The Voice: Resilient Badgers' toughest test comes Saturday

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIn the last couple of weeks, the Badger men's basketball team has given fans a few more examples of how times continue to change, and for the better.

Last Sunday, Bo Ryan's team beat Illinois in Champaign. Ten days earlier the Badgers held off Purdue in West Lafayette.  It marked the first time since 1918 that a Wisconsin team won in those two cities in the same season. For any team, winning at Purdue and at Illinois is difficult. The Badgers' miseries, especially in West Lafayette, are well documented.

Consider this year's success as another in a line of negative streak-busters accomplished by Ryan's Badgers.

Last Thursday, the Badgers defeated Indiana 57-50. It is the ninth-consecutive victory, and the 15th in the last 18 meetings for Wisconsin against Indiana. In addition, it is the 11th-straight home court win for the Badgers against IU.

You do not need to be in the "over 40" crowd to remember when the Badgers were on the other end of such a streak. From 1980 until 1997, Bob Knight's Indiana teams ran off 31 straight victories at Wisconsin's expense. Included in the domination was a 22-game home court winning streak against the Badgers -- until Ryan's first Wisconsin team ended the madness in February of 2002.

Knowing about that long, rough stretch of years might make it easier to appreciate what this current group of Badgers is doing against a storied basketball program.

Which brings us to another current streak that Wisconsin would love to extend. On Saturday, third-ranked Ohio State comes to town. No doubt there will be plenty of excitement. Perhaps not quite as much as last year, when an unbeaten and top-rated Buckeyes team visited the Kohl Center, but I would like to believe there will be no shortage of noise in the building.

Without a doubt Coach Thad Matta has put together one of nation's premier programs. OSU has had excellent role players as well as major star power. That trend continues this season.

The Kohl Center also happens to be the one building where Matta's Buckeyes have yet to win. They are 0-6 under the current boss, and OSU has dropped nine straight overall in Madison.

Perhaps to some, winning can be taken for granted. These streaks should not be viewed in such a manner. Like the bad streaks, the good ones will end sometime. The Badgers and their fans just hope this good stretch won't stop anytime soon.

Extending it another game will be a tall order. Jared Sullinger, William Buford and Aaron Craft make for a tremendous trio. There are those who believe Craft is the nation's best on-ball defender, which should make for another big time matchup with Jordan Taylor. When we last saw Taylor at home against Ohio State, the All-America guard was putting on a show for the ages, leading Wisconsin from a 15-point second-half deficit to give OSU its first loss of the season.

After starting Big Ten play 1-3, it might have been tempting to give up on this team. Instead, the Badgers have fought their way back into the conference race with six straight wins.

Sometimes they shoot it well. Other times they seem to get it done by sheer will.

Whatever the formula, they have found the right mix to turn negatives into positives. On Saturday, the home team would like nothing more than to keep streaking against a national power.
ON WISCONSIN