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While some fans in Badgerville are fretting after last Friday night's brick fest in Indianapolis, keep in mind that Wisconsin will be making its 13th straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Only five other programs have a streak that matches or exceeds the Badgers' current run--Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, Gonzaga and Texas.
That is pretty good company, don't you think?
It also speaks well that the Big Ten has seven teams in the field. Before the season, many spoke about the depth of the conference. We wondered whether there is a great team. Ohio State sure looks the part, and the other six NCAA tourney qualifiers have proven to be capable of playing with anyone in the nation. Wisconsin and Purdue have shown they can beat the best. On the other hand, the Badgers, the Boilers and all the rest also can be vulnerable against almost anyone.
We probably can say that about every team in the field, which is what should make for a very interesting, nerve wracking, throw something at the TV type of month.
For the first time in more than two years, the Badgers will try to snap a two-game losing skid. While it is amazing they have gone this long without dropping consecutive games, the Badgers are testing a long held theory--in order to make a strong run, you need to be on an uptick. They are not.
Friday evening's game bordered on the surreal. The winning team went more than 12 minutes without a field goal. The leading scorer had nine points. The losing team needed seven-and-a-half minutes to get on the board.
Guess what? All that stuff becomes very old news by late Sunday afternoon. This applies even when your team wins the Big Ten Tournament, which the Badgers have done on two occasions, most recently in 2008. Less than an hour after the team cuts down the nets, attention shifts to the first round opponent.
Thursday's matchup in Tucson figures to be fascinating. A Belmont team that averages more than 80 points a game, with terrific scoring balance, and 11 players who play double-digit minutes. The Bruins can also play some 'D', as they force 19 turnovers a game. Forget the seeding; this game should be a good watch.
Maybe more than ever, games that are labeled as upsets may not be so shocking. Some believe fourth-seeded Texas will have its hands full with No. 13 Indiana State. Another third-seed, BYU, just is not the same team without the suspended Brandon Davies. It plays Wofford, a team that gave the Badgers all they wanted last March, and the Terriers return just about everyone who matters.
In a sporting public that lives for the NFL and college football, these next three weeks are still about as good as it gets. We fret about the teams that are snubbed, such as Virginia Tech and Colorado. We try to become instant experts on programs such as Northern Colorado and Long Island.
Most of all, we get caught up in games we never thought we would care about. It is what makes March so special. It also makes it special to see that the Badgers are part of it for the 13th straight year.
It is official. Folks in Buckeye Nation really dislike the Badgers.
Maybe not any more than they dislike anything associated with the University of Michigan, but from all appearances last Sunday in Columbus, there is very little difference these days.
As our radio crew arrived at Value City Arena, all was quiet for about 10 minutes. Then the doors opened, the students came streaming into the facility, and the catcalls were underway.
"Hey Bruesewitz, you (bleep)! Hey Jordan Taylor, you (bleep) too!"
One of the OSU students came up to us and said "I just want to apologize for what we are going to be saying today. It's not about you guys--it's about THEM!!" as he pointed to the Badger players taking their warm up shots.
Great. Thanks for the heads up. With our broadcast location right by the Wisconsin bench, we figured we were going to be in for a long day, with FCC violations just waiting to happen.
Thankfully, to the best of our knowledge, there were no such issues. The students were wound up, firing verbal volleys at Bo Ryan and his team all day long, but it seemed to be PG-rated stuff. In the end, the Buckeyes had their way with a lopsided victory and a Big Ten title party.
Congrats, but that win for the Badgers in Madison still counts. The season series is 1-1.
Do you remember when the UW's all-time leading scorer Alando Tucker saved a game with his defense - not his offense - against the Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus?
In the 2003 Big Ten opener, the Badgers had been victimized by Michigan's Daniel Horton who drove the lane and scored the game-winning basket for the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
That 66-65 loss didn't sit well with Tucker who felt like he could have done more to prevent that shot. Little did he know that he would get a chance at redemption just 10 days later at Ohio State.
Not that it looked like the Badgers would need any late game heroics after they erased a 27-22 halftime deficit by knocking down 11 of 17 shots to forge a 50-39 lead with 5:18 remaining.
But the 'Ghosts of Daniel Horton Past' began to take shape again. In that earlier road loss at Michigan, the Badgers had squandered a 15-point lead which opened the door for Horton's kill shot.
Taking a page from that script, the Buckeyes came roaring back and nosed ahead, 52-51, on a Velimir Radinovic field goal with 37 seconds left. UW coach Bo Ryan called a timeout.
Kirk Penney, a senior, was Ryan's choice to take the shot.
At Michigan, the honors went to sophomore Devin Harris, who had his shot blocked by Horton.
"Devin made it look like it was possibly going to him," Ryan said of his strategy. "It's not that we don't trust Devin. But Kirk was playing with more confidence and we liked the matchup."
Penney was matched against Ohio State guard Sean Connolly.
"If you're a player in that situation, it's something you just relish," said Penney, who scored over Connolly to give the Badgers a 53-52 lead with 7.4 seconds to play. "You love to be in that position."
The Buckeyes inbounded to Brent Darby who pushed the ball up the floor and attacked the rim. Mike Wilkinson was in position to make sure that Darby would not get a good look at the basket.
Lurking in the background was Tucker. Without hesitation, Tucker rotated across the lane and swatted away Darby's shot at the buzzer. And the Badgers escaped with a dramatic victory.
"Once I saw his eyes looking at the rim," Tucker said of Darby, "I was going to try and climb the ladder and go up and get it. I saw the ball floating - it was like it was moving in slow motion."
Tucker and Penney made eye contact and hugged.
"We both sighed," Tucker said. "The horn goes off and you look at the scoreboard and we're up by one. You have to win games like this to be successful in the Big Ten."
When Ryan was asked if his players had to overcome any flashback to their blown lead and crushing loss at Michigan, he said, "They didn't become disbelievers. They just kept believing."
Seconds after exiting the UW locker room Thursday night, Jordan Taylor was informed that he had just matched his season-low in assists against Indiana. That was brought to his attention by a member of the press corps. It was seemingly intended to get a laugh out of Taylor.
It had the opposite effect. "That's true actually,'' Jordan said with a straight face. "Seriously, there were some guys who made cuts - Keaton (Nankivil)--I think I missed a few times.''
Nothing frames Taylor's selflessness more than that snapshot. While it's true that he had just one assist against the Hoosiers - matching his season-low against Boston College in late November - it's also true that Taylor was terrific in his decision-making and execution on ball screens.
Oh, yeah, he did score a career-high 39 points.
"That was awesome--awesome to be a part of,'' said UW video coordinator Sharif Chambliss, a sharpshooter of some renown during his college days at Penn State and Wisconsin. "That was awesome to watch Jordan put the team on his back tonight and we rode him on out.''
Nankivil used the words "incredible'' and "phenomenal'' to describe Taylor. "When you're playing in the game, you don't really notice,'' he said. "But at the end of the game you look at the box score and you see how much he carried us offensively. He made all the plays he could possibly make.''
Indiana coach Tom Crean called Taylor an "All-American'' and the "real deal'' after he burned his defense for a second time. Taylor had 28 points against the Hoosiers in Madison. In the two games, he made 20-of-34 shots (.588), 10-of-14 from beyond the 3-point arc (.714) and 17-of-17 free throws.
"Some shots that he made were amazing,'' Crean said. "Maybe they've seen them in practice, but I've never seen those made in games. He made some incredibly challenged shots. For a kid like Taylor, the open shot is anything less than your outstretched arm. He made shots over 6-8 and 6-9 guys.''
Whenever the Hoosiers switched on ball screens, it left Taylor to operate on either 6-foot-9, 250-pound Tom Pritchard or 6-8, 230-pound Christian Watford. Neither could contain him.
"Coach (Bo Ryan) preaches that all year round,'' Taylor said. "If they're going to switch a big on you that's a mismatch - a big on a guard - unless it's like Amare Stoudemire or KG (Kevin Garnett).
"So I was just trying to make a play. They were backing off a little bit sometimes. And other times they were kind of pressing up on us. I just tried to make some good decisions with the ball.''
Taylor sighed and added, "I also made some bad decisions with the turnover.''
Another snapshot of his unselfishness.
He had one turnover in 39 minutes.
So what did it feel like being in such a zone?
"Sometimes the basket just gets bigger,'' said Taylor, who once scored 43 in a high school game. "Every basketball player has probably experienced it. My teammates did a great job of spreading the floor and kept moving without the ball and it just made it easier to get better looks at the basket.''
Nankivil was asked about the pressure that Taylor puts on a "big'' to defend. "They say size is a big factor in basketball and it is,'' he said. "But speed is equally hard to match up with when you have that threat of speed going to the basket. He also has the ability to stop and pop and hit the shots.''
Although Taylor insisted that there wasn't a point in the game where he felt like he was on the brink of such a scoring clinic, he conceded that after making a leaning, jumper over Watford at the end of the shot clock in the first half, he thought that "things might be going my way a little bit.''
At Wilkes College, Bo Ryan once scored 43 against Susquehanna.
There was no 3-point line, either.
So what did Ryan think about his point guard Thursday night?
"How do you describe that?'' he posed, answering a question with a question. "He hit tough shots with guys in his face. And then when they crowded him, he attacked and got to the rim or got fouled. That's as good of an individual performance as I've ever seen. I can't put it into words. And you know for a guy from Chester (Pa.) if he can't put it into words, it's probably not describable.''
On making reads off ball screens, Ryan said, "Those decisions were very very helpful because he was able to get separation or he was able to attack off the bounce. I figured they were going to go to him more with maybe a second guy like they were doubling Jon Leuer in the first half. We spread the floor pretty well and Jordan was ready to pass it to somebody but he was the one getting open.''
Taylor has made steady progress as a shooter. Last season, he was under 40 percent.
"He has done a terrific job of working really hard,'' said UW assistant coach Gary Close. "We've changed a few things. I don't know that if there was anything real major. We tried to get him a little more consistent and tried to take some of the movement out of the shot that isn't necessary.
"In a lot of cases that's when inconsistency starts to creep in. We've made him a little tighter, a little more concise and he's worked real hard at it. You can tell guys a lot of things, but if they don't go and work at it - it doesn't make a whole lot of difference. He deserves a whole lot of credit.''
Not that Taylor was taking any. Why change now?
It has been quite a freshman year for Josh Gasser, at least so far. In January, he recorded the first triple-double in Wisconsin men's basketball history. Last week, he banked home a 3-point shot at the buzzer as the Badgers stunned Michigan, 53-52.
While not the first true buzzer-beater, it has been awhile since a Badger has hit a shot at the horn that turned defeat into victory. How long? Try 20 years.
That's right. The last time a Badger made a shot as time expired -- make it and you win or miss it and you lose -- was on Feb. 16, 1991. On that night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Brian Good nailed a long one to give Steve Yoder's Badgers a 56-55 win against Iowa.
UW assistant coach Gary Close was on the Iowa staff under then-head coach Dr. Tom Davis. Similar to last Wednesday's tussle in Ann Arbor, that '91 game was not exactly a thing of beauty, but the last few seconds turned out to be very pretty.
Three months earlier, the Badgers had a road game at Oregon's old McArthur Court. Late in overtime, the Badgers trailed Terrell Brandon and the Ducks, 70-69. As the final seconds were ticking away, Brandon was checking the Badgers' Jay Peters, who drained a 3-pointer at the horn to give Wisconsin a thrilling 72-70 win.
This is the same Terrell Brandon who ended up as that season's Pac-10 player of the year and then went on to a very good NBA career. In fact, in 1997, Sports Illustrated called him the NBA's best point guard.
For some reason, one of the memories I have of that night was when I saw Jay on the team bus after the game. He was reading the Wall Street Journal. It was at that moment when I figured Jay would be just fine in his post-basketball life. When I introduce him to people, I enjoy mentioning that game and how Jay Peters won it on a game-ending shot.
Yes, there have been some game-winners at the horn beyond those three examples, but in those cases either the game was tied or there was time still left on the clock. Shots that broke ties include Kam Taylor's winner vs. UNC-Wilmington in 2005, and Alando Tucker's put-back to beat Indiana in March of 2005 was followed 11 days later with a banked-in 3 at the horn to knock out Iowa in the Big Ten tournament.
Made shots with time remaining include the 2003 NCAA Tournament, when Freddie Owens splashed a triple with one second left to give Wisconsin a 61-60 victory against Tulsa.
All of those are terrific endings for the Badgers and their fans, but what Gasser did last Wednesday is rare air for Wisconsin basketball. The Badgers were behind and, with the ball in the air, the outcome was in doubt.
Then again, fans might be getting used to seeing the freshman guard doing either the unusual or the unprecedented. The program's first ever triple-double, and the first come-from-behind shot at the horn in 20 years. Not a bad start to someone's college career.
Who knows? For Gasser and his teammates, maybe the best is yet to come.
Strobel was visiting with some friends at the Kohl Center when he was
approached by someone wearing a minor league hockey jersey. It was not any
ordinary jersey. It was a South Carolina Stingrays jersey, a Kirk Daubenspeck
jersey, a No. 29.
almost broke down in tears. "He came up to me and said that he had met Dobber a
few times,'' related Strobel, a former UW hockey captain and teammate of
Daubenspeck's. "He said he didn't make a lot of money but he wanted to donate
to the medical fund. I hugged him.''
then put on the jersey and posed for some pictures. "Maybe this was the start
of the healing process for all of us on the journey that we're going on,'' he
An ongoing topic in the college basketball world centers on how players who leave school after one or two years have hurt the game. Critics will say the game is watered down, that many of today's first-team All-Americans would be hard pressed to make the second or third team in the old days.
Sure, it would be terrific for college basketball if the Kevin Durants and Blake Griffins of the world played a full four years, but that is not reality, and it is unlikely to change.
A critic will complain that the NCAA tournament will be lacking a great team, that it merely will be a collection of mediocre to good squads. I am not so sure about that, but even if there is some truth to the claim, it should make for an exciting March.
As UW teammates, Ben Brust and Duje Dukan are going through the same transition to college basketball which has provided the true freshmen even more common ground as roommates.
"We talk about it on occasion, maybe when one of us has had a frustrating day or something like that,'' Dukan said. "It definitely helps with the process; the more we've aired it out to each other.''
Neither has been a factor in the playing rotation for the Badgers.
Neither is accustomed to being cast in the role of a spectator, either.
Dukan couldn't remember it happening before - "I don't think I've ever had to deal with this,'' he said - whereas Brust had a flashback to his freshman year of high school.
After stint on the sophomore team - during which he had earned a starting assignment -- Brust was called up to the Mundelein (Ill.) varsity midway through the season.
"When I moved up, I didn't play,'' Brust said. "But I definitely got better. It was more physical and I was playing with older guys in practice who were a little bit more mature than I was.''
That has given Brust a frame of reference to what he's experiencing now at Wisconsin. "It's kind of the same thing,'' he said. "Except now I'm older and this has definitely been a lot better for me.''
Better how? "I'm stronger,'' he said, "and I feel like I've learned a lot and I'm getting better. I'm trying to do whatever I can to help the team, and right now, that's different than playing.''
Brust and Dukan are both members of the UW scout team which simulates the opponent - on offense and defense - on a daily basis in practice for the starters and reserves in the rotation.
That's a far cry from being in the headlines as the best player on their high school teams.
It was one of those games --with an atmosphere to go with it -- that any Badger fan would love to put in a bottle. The home team trailed top-ranked Ohio State by 15 points in the second half, only to stage a dramatic rally, led by a junior point guard who used to be one of the nation's most underrated players.
I would guess Jordan Taylor's status among national college basketball observers has changed.
While Taylor earned everyone's star of the game honors, I would suggest we award an assist to the good folks at UW Sports Medicine. Following a hard-fought overtime victory at Iowa last Wednesday, a game where Taylor played 44 of a possible 45 minutes, he sat out last Thursday afternoon's practice--doctor's orders.
No doubt if Taylor had his way, he would have been on the floor with his teammates, but the sports med folks knew he needed a blow. Clearly, Taylor does a ton of heavy lifting, in and out of the weight room.
Assistant Coach Lamont Paris has suggested that the percentage of possession time that Taylor has the ball in his hands might be more than anyone in college basketball. In addition to owning a four-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, not to mention the fact he spends many games guarding the other team's top player, Taylor may very well end up as the league's leading scorer in Big Ten play.
On Saturday afternoon, he put on a show for the ages.
It is a good thing he had a little bit of time to get some more fuel in the tank.
Sunday was an off day for everyone on the team, which also is good and much needed. Think about this stretch. We know Iowa is in the rebuilding mode, but at times it has been a very competitive team. Certainly that was the case last Wednesday.
The Badgers play a weeknight game that tips at 7:30. It goes to overtime. The team takes a three-hour bus ride back to Madison. The players probably get to bed by 1:30 or 2 a.m. A few hours later, it is off to class (they try to do that here), and then later in the afternoon they hit the practice floor to get ready for Ohio State.
They beat the Buckeyes, setting off a wild celebration. They have a chance on Sunday to catch their breath, and then on Monday they get ready for a road trip to Purdue. Talk about a reality check. Congrats on beating the number one team, now you get to play the Boilermakers in their house.
That is life in the Big Ten, where every team is dangerous, and every team is vulnerable. That appears to be the case all across the country, which should make for a very interesting next six weeks.
With four of the final six regular season games on the road, the Badgers' upcoming schedule is a major challenge. Yet once again, as the conference hits the stretch drive, Bo Ryan has his team in the mix. Who knows how it will end, but Badgers fans have every reason to keep a close watch on this group.
Kind of nice to say that year after year, isn't it? Now, get some rest and get ready for these next several weeks.
Do you remember when a mop-topped Zach Morley - the precursor to a mop-topped Mike Bruesewitz - felt like he could have "kicked" the basketball and "it would have had a chance to go in" during a rare win at Purdue?
Rare was an understatement.
On Feb. 15, 1972, the Badgers manhandled the Boilermakers, 84-65, in West Lafayette, Ind. The offense revolved around Leon Howard and the Hughes twins, Kim and Kerry. Lee Oler and Bob Frasor were the guards.
The Hughes duo were in the sophomore class, along with Gary Anderson and Lamont Weaver. Little did they know at the time how challenging it would be to win another game in Mackey Arena; a challenge that spanned generations.
In 1972, Richard Nixon was in the White House.
In 2005, Ray Nixon was in the UW rotation.
Purdue's dominance over Wisconsin at Mackey Arena amounted to 33 painful years. Between 1972 and 2005, the Badgers lost 29 straight times to the Boilermakers. The UW finally broke the ice - take that literally - on Jan. 5 of '05.
A nasty ice storm slowed traffic to a crawl on a Wednesday night in West Lafayette. The official attendance was 7,925. But there were far fewer people in Mackey despite the school offering free tickets to the Big Ten opener.
The Badgers fell behind 16-9 before regrouping on the strength of their 3-point shooting. Good thing because they couldn't shoot a lick inside the arc. They missed their first 11 attempts from that distance and were 2-15 in the first half.
"If you lose your composure in a game like that, you get buried," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "So I like the other option."
In this case, it was the 3-pointer. The Badgers made eight of 10 in the first half and their first six triples came from six different players: Sharif Chambliss, Nixon, Brian Butch, Morley, Alando Tucker and Mike Wilkinson.
Defensively, the Boilermakers were doubling Wilkinson and Tucker in the post and that left plenty of space on the floor for the 3-point gunners - like Morley, who scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the second half.
Morley finished with six triples (6-of-8) in the 77-68 win. "It was one of those nights where I felt like I could have kicked it and it would have had a chance to go in," Morley said. "Every time it came off my hand it felt good."
Overall, the Badgers knocked down 14-of-22 shots from beyond the arc, outscoring the Boilers, 42-3, in triples. "We can't stop people," lamented Purdue coach Gene Keady who was completing his 25th and final season on the bench.
Purdue had a big edge in the paint, 42-14. Carl Landry was hampered by foul trouble but still scored 23 points. Dave Teague added 20. "But you have to learn how to win," Keady bristled. "And we don't know how to win."
The Badgers were giddy to leave with any kind of a win.
"It's going to be nice to walk up those steps to get on a bus and hold your head up just a little higher," Ryan said after ending the UW's long losing streak.
Added Tucker, "We had to dig deep and find out who had the heart and guts to battle with these guys. We hung in there."
Until it started raining 3s.