By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 26, 2013 3:22 PM
By Kelsey Kleist, Class of 2016
Unless your outfielders are good in snowshoes and your pitchers can throw in mittens, this isn't how many Midwest teams would like to start their spring season. With snow still blanketing the field, the Wisconsin softball team was forced to cancel their home opener vs. Northwestern and move the games to a later date.
Although Wisconsin is 28 games into the season, and yet to play at home, its record marks only three losses. Similar to other Midwest teams, the Badgers have become frequent flyers, traveling to North Carolina, Florida, California, Illinois and Kentucky to get away from the snow and onto the dirt.
Whether spring was ready or not, last weekend was the start to Big Ten competition. Wisconsin headed to Illinois where it swept the Illini and extended its win streak to 13-straight. UW hopes to continue the streak when the team heads to Iowa City this Friday.
Looking for your chance to witness the buzz about Wisconsin softball?
Come out to Goodman Diamond on April 10th to cheer on the Badgers as they take on Northern Iowa --and the weather -- for their first home victory.
KANSAS CITY -- Seated at courtside, Marv Albert and Steve Kerr greeted Bo Ryan near the end of Wisconsin's practice here Thursday at the Sprint Center. Upon shaking Albert's hand, Ryan cracked, "I've got a son who does you better than you.''
Matt Ryan has been known to impersonate the voices of Albert and Bill Walton, among other sports celebrities. The younger Ryan, who once worked on his dad's staff in Madison, is now living in California and giving private basketball lessons to youngsters.
Albert and Kerr will be on the call of Wisconsin's opening game in the NCAA tournament Friday against Ole Miss for truTV. To this end, Kerr already has a book on the Badgers from having watched them last weekend against Indiana and Ohio State in Chicago while broadcasting for CBS.
"They're just unflappable,'' said Kerr, 47, the owner of five NBA championships, three with the Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs. "They're not always going to make shots but they're going to take care of the ball and they're going to run their stuff.''
Kerr has an appreciation for good defense because he was so good on offense; he's the NBA's all-time percentage leader (.454) in 3-point shooting. At that, opponents are shooting just 29 percent from beyond the 3-point arc against the Badgers, a school record.
That figure was even lower in the Big Ten tournament, where Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State converted on only 9-of-46 attempts (19.6). Wisconsin is giving up 3.9 triples per game, the fewest among all BCS conference teams and the sixth-fewest overall in Division I.
"They're going to fight you on every possession,'' Kerr said. "They're a nightmare to play against because they don't give you anything easy. You have to earn every basket.''
Jared Berggren, the Big Ten leader in blocks per game (2.1) and UW's career leader (141), has played his way onto Kerr's radar. "I'm so impressed with what they do on defense particularly on the interior,'' he said. "Berggren is an amazing defender.''
Kern has a pretty discerning eye, too, considering he's the former general manager of the Phoenix Suns. "You don't really see it until you watch him closely,'' he said. "He's obviously a good shot blocker, but I'm talking about his positioning defensively.''
On ball swings, Kerr pointed to Berggren's ability to "find a way to get around his man and beat him to the spot'' along with "cutting off driving angles for guards.'' How is Berggren viewed by NBA scouts? Does he have a future at the next level?
"People love his defense,'' Kerr said. "But the key is that he would have to be a floor-spacing, 3-point shooter, which he has shown he can be. But he has been very inconsistent.''
As a junior, Berggren shot 37 percent from 3-point distance. But his numbers have dropped off dramatically this season to 26 percent. In the Big Ten, he was 8-of-48 (.167).
"You always have to find a place offensively on the floor in the NBA otherwise it becomes a four-on-five game,'' Kerr reasoned. "But he's big, he's a smart player. He can do some things. But if he could perfect that outside shot it changes everything.''
Bo knows defense, Kerr knows guards. That's why he had nothing but praise for the transition that Traevon Jackson has made to point guard, especially in Ryan's system.
Beyond the loss of Joss Gasser, he said, "What a tough role to fill Jordan Taylor's shoes.''
On top of that, Kerr noted that Jackson had to learn how to play the point "for a demanding coach who demands ball security.'' Based on his Chicago effort, he added, "I thought his play last weekend was one of the reasons why they had such a good run.''
When quizzed on the steady growth of UW freshman Sam Dekker, there was a twinkle in Kerr's eyes when he said, "He's got a little Doug McDermott to his game.''
McDermott, a 6-foot-7 junior wing, is the All-American for Creighton.
"He (Dekker) has that kind of potential, size, shooting touch and toughness,'' said Kerr. "I think he has just scratched the surface. He's going to be a big-time player.''
Dekker has been explosive in the open floor when the situation has presented itself. "If there's an opening,'' said Kerr, "they will run down and shoot a 3.''
But where the Badgers can frustrate an opponent is in the half-court. "No matter how hard you guard,'' Kerr said, "they're going to work even harder to get a good shot.''
How will Friday's game here unfold? "Even though they're playing well,'' he said of the Rebels, "I like the matchup for Wisconsin because I think they can control the pace and tempo and frustrate Ole Miss by making them guard for the whole clock.''
Still, he cautioned, "In the end, you have to make shots -- all the usual things.''
This has been an unusual season in college basketball because of parity, which led Kerr to conclude, "I think Wisconsin could make the Final Four." (He paused.) "I think they could also lose in their first game. You could say a lot of teams are in that situation.''
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Another bid to the NCAA Tournament means another round of #Fieldof68. Let us guide you on the Badgers journey leading up to their opening round match-up with the Ole Miss Rebels. 68 teams in the tournament, that means 68 inside-access tweets about Wisconsin from @BadgerMBB all the way up to Friday morning's tip between the Badgers and Rebels.
And so it begins... The #Fieldof68! 68 teams in the tourney, 68 tweets from inside the #Badgers huddle.
It is safe to say the Wisconsin Badgers opened some eyes at last weekend's Big Ten tournament in Chicago. When you beat two teams ranked in the top 10 and take a third to the final minute, it only makes sense that people will notice. Even the skeptics had to admit this team might not be so bad. After all, who else went 4-0 against Indiana and Michigan?
While the Badgers might have surprised many, one gets the impression they did not exactly shock themselves. Quite the contrary. The players walked out of the United Center in less than a great mood. Sure, there is excitement about the program's 15th-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, but the Badgers departed Chicago knowing how close they were to winning a trophy.
"We know we can play with anyone," said freshman Sam Dekker. "It is not a surprise to us when we have big wins like that. We expected to come down here and win the tournament. That is plainly stated. I feel like most of the guys probably said the same thing."
"We let one slip away. That is a bitter taste, but we have to correct that and use that energy Friday down in Kansas City, and hopefully take care of business."
The business at hand is facing an Ole Miss team that is fresh off an SEC tournament championship. The Rebels will come to town with a five-game winning streak, which includes a come-from-behind victory against Florida in the conference title game.
Sunday's victory secured the first NCAA trip for Ole Miss since 2002. That little nugget brings up the question about how much, if at all, does experience matter in the Big Dance?
I figure it does not hurt to have it, but experience alone certainly offers no guarantees of success.
"The seniors have been through it and all that," said coach Bo Ryan. Then, ever the coach, he offered the following advice: "But what the seniors need to be doing is talking to themselves about playing better.
"We need to have the young and the old if we expect to get something done in the tournament. Especially with the way they set it up in our bracket. There are a lot of challenges out there."
With Ole Miss, the challenges begin with trying to contain junior guard Marshall Henderson, who will shoot from anywhere and say almost anything. Flamboyant? To say the least. More importantly, Henderson can put a team on his back.
His teammates aren't too bad either. Reggie Buckner has rejected 91 shots this season, while 6-foot-7 senior Murphy Holloway averages 9.6 rebounds. He has 38 double-doubles in his career.
Similar to Wisconsin, Ole Miss has dealt with injuries. The latest for the Rebels occurred to starting point guard Jarvis Summers, who suffered a concussion in the Rebels' opening SEC tourney game against Missouri. Summers missed the last two games, but Ole Miss moved on, defeating Vanderbilt and the Gators in route to earning the automatic bid to the NCAAs. All week we will read and hear about how these programs are polar opposites, but both the Badgers and the Rebels appear to be pretty good at proving people wrong, and I believe it is a safe guess to say both teams enjoy doing just that.
It never hurts to have a little fun, and Badgers guard Ben Brust is hoping his group can have an extended experience in college basketball's showcase event.
"It's a special thing," he said. "Everyone dreams of it growing up. You want to play in the NCAA tournament. So, enjoy every moment, but at the same time stay focused on the task at hand because we are capable of making a run."
That run begins Friday morning, and hopefully the Badgers will be running for the next few weeks.
Last fall, Bo Ryan and his fellow Big Ten basketball coaches told anyone willing to listen how good the league would be this season. Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said there are no "feel-good" games. In other words, no team on the schedule would serve as a breather.
Ryan and Gard were right. So was everyone else.
The Big Ten tournament can be an excellent showcase for the league. In his perfect world, Ryan would simply play more regular season games, but even he believes this could be a wild weekend at the United Center. If you have a ticket to this sold-out show, consider yourself lucky.
As good as the tournament might be, it will be hard pressed to top the regular season. Give Indiana credit for winning the championship. In a sports sense, it truly was a game of survival.
Look at it this way. In the closing seconds of last Sunday's Michigan-Indiana game, the Wolverines' Jordan Morgan was trying to tip in a missed shot from teammate Trey Burke. The ball hung on the right side of the rim, then fell off. That was the difference between Michigan winning a piece of the title and being the fifth seed this week.
From the Badgers' perspective, that miss, preceded by Traevon Jackson's buzzer-beater at Penn State, allowed Wisconsin to earn a first-round bye for the 13th-straight year.
To some, if not many, this seemed to be shaping up as a season when the Badgers finally finished in the lower half of the Big Ten. It is the nation's best conference, and the Badgers were going to be without Josh Gasser. Mike Bruesewitz sliced his leg, then a few weeks later suffered a concussion. Young players had to grow up in a hurry.
Maybe it hasn't always been pretty, but they are growing up. Put it all together, and once again the Badgers exceeded expectations in the conference race.
For those efforts, Bo Ryan is the 2013 Big Ten Coach of the Year. Deservedly so.
As was the case the previous two times he was so honored, Ryan made it about the team. His name will be on the plaque, but it is the school he represents that makes him smile.
"It is nice because it always has the 'University of Wisconsin' coach. That is what matters the most. They get our brand in there."
It can be easy to wonder what might have been. What if Wisconsin had held on at Minnesota? Or what if they could have played better against Purdue on Senior Day.
Ryan knows that works both ways, and points out that more of those either/or games went the Badgers' way. Games such as the overtime thrillers with Michigan and Iowa, not to mention last Sunday's game with Penn State.
Through the injuries and the other challenges of the regular season, the Badgers finished in the top four -- again. That is a remarkable 12 straight years of a fourth-place or better showing. In the Big Ten, only Purdue has a longer streak, and that happened between 1920 and 1932.
"Take a look at the players from 2001 to now," Ryan said on his weekly radio show Monday. "You just say, boy, they were very consistent in their competitive values, in their style, in how they tried to get things done."
"You know, our teams haven't changed that much. Some years maybe you have a little more of this, a little less of that. But to be as consistent as they have been, I am extremely proud of the way they have played.
"(I am proud of) the assistant coaches, our philosophy -- we have made some tweaks, but we still try to do it on fundamentals, working hard, and good things will happen."
Despite the obstacles, the Badgers have made plenty of good things happen.
Now they get a chance to make a good thing even better.
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson on March 8, 2013 11:34 AM
In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy reflects on UW's trip to California and looks ahead to the upcoming Midwest competition.
After back-to-back, six game weekends in Orlando, Fla. and Fullerton, Calif., it was great to get back to Madison late Sunday night. The week has been quite an adventure, with a nine inch snow storm Monday night, burying the city.
Our trip to California was a success, posting wins over No. 16 Stanford, Cal State Fullerton, Cal Poly and Cal State Bakersfield. Every team we played in California was impressive. Stanford already has 17 wins, with victories over Georgia, Florida State and Virginia. Fullerton has key wins over Missouri and UCLA, and Cal Poly has beaten Washington and Georgia. We were really pleased with the composure and confidence that our pitchers and hitters displayed en route to those signature victories.
We switch gears the next two weekends to match up with some of the best regional competition around. We leave tomorrow for four games in Carbondale, Ill., at Southern Illinois University. We're excited to match up against SIU, UIC, Belmont and Eastern Kentucky. Growing up and playing in the Midwest, I've had the opportunity to watch SIU and UIC, have a tremendous amount of success nationally. Both teams have great softball legacies, and winning traditions.
Southern Illinois will certainly be a tough game on Saturday. It's always exciting to play the host team on their field. The Saluki's have wins this year against No. 14 South Florida and a tough Hofstra team with all-American pitching. SIU has six NCAA tournament appearances, including a sweet 16 finish.
On Sunday we'll face UIC who has 4-8 all-time record against Wisconsin. The Flames have nine NCAA tournament appearances, 12 NCAA tournament wins, and a World Series appearance.
Our goal, as a program, is to win the Big Ten, advance to the NCAA tournament and make a run in post-season play. In order to become a nationally-recognized, nationally-ranked program, it's critical that we match up and compete against the best teams in our region. Both SIU and UIC have a tremendous amount of NCAA tournament, championship experience. They both have hosted NCAA regional tournaments. This weekend will be a great test for Wisconsin, to see how we stack up against great Midwest opponents.
Michael Lihrman's journey to the Badgers has not been a traditional one. But Wisconsin is sure happy to have him.
Lihrman, a junior transfer from Division III UW-Stout, will compete in the weight throw at the 2013 USA Indoor Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday at 2:15 p.m. (CT).
The competition, held at the Albuquerque Convention Center, features many of the nation's elite track and field athletes as they compete in the world's oldest indoor track championship.
The event also will mark Lihrman's first official competition wearing the Badgers' uniform, meaning UW's school record is likely in jeopardy.
Lihrman got a late start in track and field, joining the sport his junior year at Rice Lake High School. After being named conference field athlete of the year as a senior, Lihrman enrolled at UW-Stout to compete as a collegiate thrower.
Last season at UW-Stout, Lihrman finished 11th in the weight throw at the 2012 NCAA Division III indoor Championships and finished fourth in the hammer throw at the outdoor championships.
After his sophomore year, however, he transferred to Wisconsin and has been throwing like a Division I athlete ever since.
Although Lihrman is redshirting this season and competes unattached, he has won the weight throw in each of the four meets he has competed in.
The junior had displayed remarkable consistency, winning each meet with marks that would have broken the Badgers school record of 64 feet, 4 1/2 inches if he had been competing in a UW uniform.
Lihrman's best throw came at the Red & White Open on Feb. 15, when he threw a personal-best and Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center (The Shell) facility-record toss of 70 feet, 10 3/4 inches.
Despite the victories and record heaves, Lihrman is comfortable redshirting his first season at Wisconsin.
"It actually hasn't been that different because I pretty much competed with the team the entire year," Lihrman said. "I know next year, and the year after that, I will have even bigger opportunities."
Lihrman is thrilled about the chance to compete at a prestigious event like the USA indoor championships during a redshirt year.
"I actually had no idea that I could do that," he said. "I wasn't really sure what the boundaries are for a redshirt so I'm extremely excited."
Not only will Lihrman get to compete against some of the country's premier athletes, he will also get a feel for the facility that will host the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships. But the junior is taking things one step at a time.
"There will be some pretty big competitors there," Lihrman said. "My expectations are to just have fun."