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Ever hear about Jon Bryant?
"Never,'' Rob Wilson said. "Never heard of him. Who was that?''
Jon Bryant? Who was that?
"I know the name,'' said Josh Gasser. "Jon Bryant? Is he a coach?''
Not a coach, a player. Ever hear of him?
"Maybe,'' Ben Brust said. "Maybe if you tell me more about him.''
"Played here at New Mexico?'' Brust asked.
Played at Wisconsin. But, yes, he did play here - at The Pit - in Albuquerque.
Seriously, doesn't anyone remember Jon Bryant?
"Yeah, of course,'' said Jordan Taylor.
Leave it to the senior captain.
Taylor, like Bryant, hails from the state of Minnesota.
"I worked out once with Jon Bryant when I was younger,'' Taylor said. "Some of my friends worked out with him a lot. To be honest, I don't know much about his history here.
"I know him more as a trainer in Minnesota.''
That would be the post-UW Jon Bryant, the founder of Triple Threat Elite Training.
"Jon Bryant,'' said video coordinator Sharif Chambliss, "was a great shooter for the Badgers. He was able to stretch the defense and knock down shots when they needed it.''
Never more so than during Wisconsin's 2000 run to the Final Four which culminated with wins over LSU and Purdue in the West Regional semifinals and finals at The Pit.
Bryant caught fire in the tournament starting with the Badgers' opening game when he went 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 66-56 victory over Fresno State.
Bryant still shares the school record for most triples in a game with a host of others, including Taylor (vs. Indiana last year), Brust (vs. BYU and UNLV) and Wilson (vs. Indiana).
The Bryant flashback and history lesson is relevant to this team from the standpoint that the Badgers have multiple players capable of exploding offensively with 3-point hits.
You can add Gasser to the list. Twice, he's had four triples in a game.
UW assistant coach Lamont Paris admitted that he was unaware of Jon Bryant's legacy though he had heard of the name. But he knows the impact that a shooter can have.
"It happens all the time in March,'' Paris said. "It's about who's playing well and who's shooting the ball well. Look at VCU last year in the tournament.''
Virginia Commonwealth made its Final Four run on the strength of its 3-pointers. "That's what it came down to,'' Paris said. "They shot an astronomical percentage.''
In retrospect, did Wilson sneak up on the Hoosiers? Or can he do it again? Michigan State was obviously aware of his presence and threat and limited touches and good looks.
So how does he get space?
"Rob is a good athlete,'' Paris said. "He comes off screens hard and he has pretty good size for a guard so he has the ability to create some space for himself that way.
"Performances like that - the Indiana game - are what this time of the year is all about. Get a guy hot like that and you can ride him into a deep run in the tournament.''
That's why defenses are geared to stop guys like that. Consider: Wilson took only five shots and made two against the Spartans last Saturday in the Big Ten tournament.
"A couple of times they were face-guarding, Indiana didn't do that,'' Wilson said. "Michigan State is a great defensive team and they came in with a great game plan.
"They were switching a lot on the screens and bumping me as I was running off of screens. I just have to read what they give me and what my teammates are doing.
"I have to make better reads and cuts to continue to get open. I have to take advantage of the opportunities that I do get.
"I'm still hoping to be a big factor and contributor off the bench here (against Montana). I have to play great defense and hopefully knock down a couple of shots.''
A couple of shots? What did it feel like to knock down seven against Indiana?
"It felt like the hoop was a lot bigger than it normally is,'' Wilson said.
Brust knows that feeling. Early in the season, he went 7-of-7 from beyond the arc against UNLV and 7-of-10 against BYU. Both teams are in the NCAA tournament.
Lately, though, Brust's playing time has dwindled. Despite accounting for only seven points in the last five games combined, he has remained upbeat.
"You just have to be ready at all times,'' Brust said. "If coach calls your name, and if the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it.''
Getting away from Big Ten defenses could help Brust.
"Maybe; maybe for everyone else on the floor, too,'' he said. "I think we're all excited to play against some new faces that we haven't seen before.''
March is the perfect setting for a breakout game for somebody.
"Anything can happen,'' Chambliss said. "That's why we're here.''
The last time the Badgers were here - at The Pit - Gasser was eight years old.
So you can understand why he would have no specific recollection of Jon Bryant.
"I do remember that (2000) team as a whole,'' Gasser said. "You don't really remember a lot of the individual players; that's why they were so good.
"You just remember how well that team played together. Obviously, there's some good karma in this arena, and hopefully we can continue it.''
After all, Bo Ryan emphasized, this is not about Jon Bryant and 2000.
"But this is our guys' time,'' Ryan said Wednesday. "Those 15 players that will be out there in red and white, this is their time ... this is their moment.''
Freddie Owens has transitioned from climbing hills at Wisconsin under coach Bo Ryan to "climbing mountains'' at Montana under coach Wayne Tinkle, a Milwaukee native, just like Owens. The 30-year-old Owens, of course, is the starting point for any scouting report on the Griz.
"Freddie texts me and I text him now and then; we stay in touch,'' said Ryan who was fully expecting to hear from Owens later Sunday night after the No. 4 seed Badgers drew No. 13 seed Montana in the NCAA Tournament. Owens is completing his third season on Tinkle's staff.
"In my workout room at the house,'' Ryan went on, "there's a big picture of Freddie on the wall - the picture of him running down the court after he realizes that his shot went in against Tulsa. I have to look at Freddie every day when I go down there and work out.''
Laughing, he added, "I might turn it (the picture) around this week.''
Truth is, whenever Ryan thinks about Owens making that memorable 3-point shot that capped a furious rally from a 13-point deficit with four minutes left and advanced the Badgers to the Sweet 16 in the 2003 tournament, he says, "It puts a smile on my face.''
Ryan had a premonition that Wisconsin might draw Montana. "When they won (the Big Sky tournament), I said, 'That's a team we could play,''' he recounted. "To be real honest, I probably said that about some other teams, too. But there's no question I thought that was a possibility.''
Owens had the same premonition.
"I said if we can somehow crack the 13 seed, I told my wife we're going to end up playing Wisconsin, just watch,'' Owens told the Missoulian, the local newspaper in Missoula, the site of the University of Montana campus. Missoula is a little less than 200 miles from Spokane, Wash.
"I'm excited personally and the guys are excited,'' continued Owens, a product of Milwaukee Washington High School. "It's going to be a weird feeling being across the bench from coach Ryan and some of the other guys on the coaching staff.
"This is March and crazy things happen. I think it's a great opportunity for us to go out and show that we can play against a really good program and hopefully come out with a win.''
Nobody has a longer active winning streak in college basketball than the Grizzlies, who have won 14 straight games and 20 of their last 21. The last time they lost was Jan. 14 at Weber State; a setback which they have avenged twice since then.
Montana upended Weber State, 66-51, in the final game of the regular season (Feb. 28) and then won the rubber match in the title game of the Big Sky tournament (March 7). It wasn't even close, either. The Griz wound up scoring 54 points in the second half alone during an 85-66 rout.
All five starters scored in double-figures - Kareem Jamar and Mathias Ward had 23 each. To say the least, this is not a deep Montana team. Tinkle subbed only twice against Weber State. Shawn Stockton played six minutes and Keron DeShields played three. Neither played in the second half.
The Grizzlies are led in scoring by Will Cherry, a 6-foot-1, 177-pound junior guard from Oakland, Calif. Besides averaging 16 points, Cherry is the school's career leader in steals with 221. He's also a lockdown defender; the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year.
Cherry shares the backcourt with Jamar, a 6-5, 210-pound sophomore from Los Angeles, who averaged 14 points. Both are 3-point threats. Jamar went 5-of-8 from beyond the arc against Weber State in the Big Sky finals, and has 49 triples on the season, one fewer than Cherry.
The Griz are anchored on the frontline by Derek Selvig, a 7-foot, 230-pound senior and the only player from Montana (Glendive) on the roster. The starting forwards are Ward, a 6-7, 236-pound junior from Gig Harbor, Wash., and Art Steward, a 6-4, 210-pound senior from Casper, Wyo.
The Grizzlies are no strangers to the Big Dance. This will be their second trip in three seasons. In 2010, they lost, 62-57, to New Mexico (coached by Steve Alford) in the East Regional. Montana, then a No. 14, seed, played in San Jose, Calif.
Tinkle, whose teams have won 20 or more games in each of the last three seasons, was also exposed to the NCAA Tournament as a Montana assistant under Don Holst once and Larry Krystkowiak twice. Krystokowiak is a Missoula native, a Griz alum and a former Milwaukee Bucks player and coach.
The 46-year-old Tinkle is also a Griz alum; and the sixth-leading scorer and fourth-leading rebounder in school history. His wife Lisa starred for the Lady Griz, while their daughter Joslyn has started 20 games for the Stanford women's basketball team.
During the course of this season, the Grizzlies have adopted "Ain't no Mountain High Enough'' as a theme song. They've sung the lyrics during bus rides and following road wins. Climbing a mountain would be in Owens' wheel-house since he climbed his share of hills at Elver Park during his UW career.
That's part of the big picture this week.
How do you quantify momentum? Especially in a program that wins so much?
UW women's hockey coach Mark Johnson has rarely been forced to go down this path where the momentum of his team has come into question.
"Momentum comes in different areas,'' Johnson reasoned. "Obviously if you win a big game and there are some dramatics within that game -- if you happen to win in overtime -- it's going to carry some energy over to your next practice or game.
"If you beat a real high-quality opponent, I think it can do the same thing. That's what is so fun about the postseason. Unlike regular-season games, the playoff games are all big. Certainly, the momentum of the season and playoffs can carry into the NCAA games.''
But what if the opposite is true? The Badgers lost their final game of the regular season to Ohio State, and they also lost to Minnesota Duluth in the WCHA Final Face-Off. Do they have momentum going into Saturday's NCAA quarterfinal matchup against Mercyhurst?
"I think we're in a good spot, whether you define it as momentum or not,'' Johnson said. "As I was telling our staff this week, if we were sitting in the locker room in September and we were saying, 'We're going to be the No. 1 seed,' we would have taken it.
"We're in a good position. We're pretty healthy and we're where we need to be. Like any sport, it's now going to come down to execution. At the end of the day, you don't want to have any regrets. Championship teams don't make any excuses.''
Losing two of their last four games has been a breaking news story in women's college hockey, particularly since the Badgers lost only twice in their first 34 games. A Johnson-coached team hasn't lost consecutive games in five years.
Consider: after losing 3-2 to Minnesota on Oct. 16, the Badgers bounced back with a 4-3 win over Duluth; after losing 1-0 to the Gophers on Jan. 7, they crushed North Dakota 8-2; after losing 4-2 to Ohio State on Feb. 18, they overwhelmed Minnesota State 7-0.
"We've done a lot of good things,'' Johnson said modestly.
Does he still believe that you can learn more about yourself after a loss than a win even though his teams have so little experience with losing?
"Absolutely,'' he said. "You ask yourself, 'What do we need to do to make sure we don't feel this way after our next game?'''
What about the leadership in his locker room? How have some of his better players handled going 2-2 over their last four games? "Anytime you lose it's a tough pill to swallow,'' he said. "We haven't been there very often (as a program). But you deal with it.''
To this end, Johnson has been encouraged by their reaction to the recent setbacks. "They're saying the right things,'' he said. "They're coming to practice and doing the right things. You never want to lose but if you can become better, it's a good path to go down.''
It's just that so few people around here are conditioned to this conversation.
"When we lost a (NCAA) quarterfinal game in '05 to Dartmouth,'' Johnson said, "it was one of those things where we talked afterward and planted a seed for the following year. That learning experience helped us win in '06.
"That's how I look at our playoff system. It's a good two week learning opportunity, whether you've been successful or not. If you get to see another day - which we do - you need to take some things from the loss and move on. That's how I look at momentum.''
Never let them see you sweat, either.
"It comes down to habits and what we do on a daily basis,'' said Johnson, whose calm and collected demeanor sets the tone for his team. "It's the way you go about business. You learn from what the previous game showed you.
"If you're consistent in what you do and your approach, the players understand that and they get to the point where they don't like losing either. They'll come back more focused on paying attention to detail and playing with a little more hunger.''
That's what he's counting on against Mercyhurst.
"Executing and playing with energy is crucial right now,'' he stressed. "We've shown all year that we've been competitive and consistent and we've won a lot.
"Our preparation will give us our best chance to win knowing if we're not successful, it's the end of the road.''
Ryan Evans was still trying to digest the win over Indiana here Friday in the Big Ten tournament when he was prodded to look ahead to Michigan State, a rival that swept the regular season series against the Badgers for the first time under Bo Ryan.
"Aw, man, I'm just trying to sit back and enjoy this one," Evans kiddingly protested while unwinding in front of his locker. "But it's the same old, same old (with the Spartans). You've got to guard Draymond Green; he's going to be the focal point.
(Green had 18 and 20 points against Wisconsin earlier this season.)
"But they've got a lot of other guys that are able to do stuff. We watched them a little bit today (in Michigan State's 92-75 win over Iowa). A lot of guys were knocking down shots fluently within their offense.
"They're like us - they've got a lot of players that you've got to stop."
The Spartans had four players in double-figures against Iowa: Green, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood. Two others had nine apiece: Derrick Nix and Travis Trice. Michigan State dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Hawkeyes by a 36-24 margin.
"I think we actually outrebounded them (33-30) at their house," Evans noted of the Feb. 16 game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. "But it's going to be tough to be able to do that again. We just have to be ready to get pushed around some."
And they need to push back, too, Evans implied. They also need to get back - on defense. Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 15-0 in transition points; most of the damage coming during a 14-0 run in the first half. The Badgers never recovered in the 69-55 loss.
"We know what they're capable of, and we know what they're going to try to do to us," said UW center Jared Berggren. "They took it to us twice this year and we know where we have to improve on, and where we need to do a better job.
"If we get contributions from different guys like we did (against Indiana) and balanced scoring - Rob (Wilson) getting hot like that again definitely wouldn't hurt either."
Wilson was the buzz of the tournament after scoring 30 against the Hoosiers. Had he done this next week in the first round of the Big Dance, which has no equal in terms of national exposure and pub, he would have been booking an appearance on The Late Show with Dave Letterman.
Will Wilson feel any better, he was asked Friday, knowing that Michigan State will likely be talking about him when the Spartans go through their walk-through in advance of facing the Badgers?
"No, I don't want them to put that much thought into me," he said.
Pausing, he then completed his thought by saying, "I hope that I can continue to be open - I just have to keep moving so that my teammates can find me like they did today. My mentality is to keep shooting, especially when you're hot, just keep shooting."
Wilson played 16 minutes and scored five points against the Spartans at the Breslin Center. In the 63-60 overtime loss to Michigan State at the Kohl Center, he took only two shots and missed them both during his 12 minutes of playing time.
A key will be what the Badgers can get out of Jordan Taylor, who had 28 in Madison but only 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting in East Lansing. When push comes to shove, as Evans intimated, they're going to have to make a push to get Taylor more involved.
Especially since the Spartans will be on the look-out for Wilson.
On an abbreviated Christmas break, a few days off from practice, Wisconsin's Mike Bruesewitz and Jordan Taylor returned home to Minnesota: Bruesewitz to St. Paul and Taylor to Bloomington. So what constitutes a little R & R for Big Ten basketball players?
Bruesewitz and Taylor showed up at high school basketball game in St. Louis Park; not just any game, mind-you, but a showdown featuring Benilde-St. Margaret's, the No. 1-ranked team in Class 3A and Taylor's alma mater.
Bruesewitz sat with his former Sibley prep coach, Tom Dasovich, now at Minnetonka. At one point, Dasovich turned to Bruesewitz and observed, "Jordan is probably going to run for governor or president or some elected official's office because that's just his personality.''
Taylor meshed so well with everyone in this setting that it was like he had never left the student body, Bruesewitz recounted. Dasovitch, in fact, suggested that there are very few collegiate All-Americans that you could throw into a high school gym, and they'd handle themselves as well as Taylor.
"I really hadn't thought about it that way,'' Bruesewitz conceded. "When I look at Jordan, I really don't see an All-American; he works extremely hard and doesn't let that stuff to go this head. Now when I'm playing basketball with him, it's different: I obviously see that he's a great player.''
Taylor's impact can't be measured by mere statistics, though you can build an argument for his status among the elite point guards based solely on his assist-to-turnover ratio. "He's also probably the best team leader that I've ever been around,'' Bruesewitz said. "It's going to be weird to see him go.''
That admission was tough for Bruesewitz to swallow. Reflecting on Sunday's farewell appearance at the Kohl Center for Wisconsin's two seniors -- Taylor and Rob Wilson -- Bruesewitz said, "Each Senior Day gets harder and harder the longer that you're in the program.''
As a freshman, Bruesewitz spent just one year in the company of Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes but "they became friends and great teammates.'' As a sophomore, it was a little more difficult for Bruesewitz, who got to spend two years around Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz.
Bruesewitz had known Leuer, another Minnesota native, since his sophomore year in high school. Nankivil sat next to Bruesewitz in the Kohl Center locker room and "I got to know him really well,'' along with Jarmusz. "I considered them all to be really good friends,'' Bruesewitz said.
His friendship with Taylor and Wilson extends to three years and beyond (with Taylor). That's what is making this particular Senior Day so much more emotional for Bruesewitz. "It's just kind of sad, but I'm also happy at the same time because I got to experience a lot of things with these guys,'' he said.
Pondering how each graduating class has marked a passage in time, Bruesewitz said, "This year, it's three years with those guys (Taylor and Wilson) and then all of a sudden it's your turn next year.
"You have no idea how fast it goes until you're going through it and experience it.''
For context, his own special brand of context, Bruesewitz said, "Just last year I was wearing a big, poufy afro, and a year later, I'm on my third Senior Day.''
Just three years ago, Bruesewitz was on the scout team with Wilson, a Cleveland native. "We went through a lot of the same stuff together,'' said Bruesewitz, a junior. "Rob was kind of my guy; I'd stick around him a lot my freshman year. I'm going to miss him a lot.''
Although Wilson may not be as outgoing as Bruesewitz, the latter insisted, "He's quiet, but sometimes you can't get him to shut up. Rob has gotten a lot more vocal over the last three years. He's just a regular 'Joe' in the locker room. He'll start arguing with the rest of us.''
About the Indians? About the Browns? About the Cavaliers?
"Naaw, Cleveland is irrelevant in the sporting world,'' Bruesewitz teased.
There were likely times when Wilson felt that way, himself.
"There were times when he didn't play very much and I could kind of see on his face that he was down,'' Bruesewitz said. "I just tried to keep telling him, 'Keep working because there will be a time when the team is going to need you and you're going to need to step up.'
"I didn't know if he was always listening, but he didn't pack it in and he kept working hard. The last three games, Rob has been playing extremely well. We don't beat Ohio State without Rob, who knocked down those three big three (pointers) and played good defense.
"After the game, I gave him a big hug because he has worked his butt off.''
Bruesewitz has been attempting to heed some of his own advice -- "Get in the gym, keep working, keep getting shots up'' -- during a personally frustrating offensive slump. Since scoring 11 points against Ohio State in Madison on Feb. 4, he has scored 21 in the last six games combined.
"It feels like I haven't made a shot in about a month,'' he said. "But you just have to keep playing through this stuff - you have to keep thinking the next shot is going down, because it is. You have to keep getting up more shots before and after practice and eventually the ship will be righted.''
On Thursday, Bruesewitz had UW video coordinator Shariff Chambliss set up a camera in the practice gym, the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion, and he had a manager retrieve and rebound his shots.
After seeing himself on tape, he concluded, "I found out I'm a much larger human being than I thought I was.''
A sense of humor helps when you're in a slump. After reviewing his shooting mechanics, Bruesewitz said, "Everything looked fine, I just needed to see myself making some shots.''
Sometimes that's all it takes to get back on track.
"I know I'm a good shooter,'' he said. "I spent a lot of hours this summer (shooting) and a lot of hours the summer before and the summer before that. One of these days, they'll start going down.''
Wisconsin 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."
The 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.''
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.
There 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.
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.
A 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."
Type-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.
"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."