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The Voice: Matchup has makings of a classic

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgBowls are great, but the media build-up can get a little old, right? Fans making the trip to Southern California should, and I am sure, will, enjoy everything they can, but no doubt everyone is eager to see the game begin.

After awhile, what else can we say or write? I guess that will not stop some of us from trying.

For weeks, some national observers have labeled this as the bowl season's second most intriguing game, just behind the BCS title matchup. You have the nation's number one defense facing an offense that steamrolled through the last three weeks of the regular season, averaging 67 points in trouncing Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern.

Then again, you have a TCU offense that, like the Badgers in the regular season, averaged 43 points a game, facing a defense that forced 16 turnovers in the final four games.

Both teams have dangerous return men. Wisconsin's David Gilreath turned in the play of the year with his opening kick return for a score against Ohio State, while the Horned Frogs Jeremy Kerley is the two-time Mountain West Conference special teams player of the year.

So many storylines. Some answers to key questions might seem clear. Other questions are more difficult to answer. Some are always in play during bowl games, while others are specific to this game:

Lucas at Large: What Christmas means to the Badgers

It was Christmas and Aaron Henry had his heart set on some Jordans - Air Jordans - Michael Jordan basketball shoes. The price was around $150.

"But my mother couldn't afford them,'' Henry said.

Was he mad?

"Not at all,'' he emphasized. "I have some younger sisters and I was more worried about my mom buying them something. I was at an age where I really wasn't into receiving.

"My mom wasn't able to get the Jordans for me that Christmas. But she eventually got them for me. Giving rather than receiving was kind of the theme or the model in our household.''

Henry, a starting safety on the UW football team, reflected on Christmas Past.

"A lot of times my mom and grandmother didn't have a whole lot of money to buy us presents,'' he said. "There were a couple of Christmases where I received one or two things. And there were a couple of Christmases where I didn't get anything at all. I understood the situation financially.

"As I got older, I really didn't expect things for Christmas. It was more about the spirit and the love - for me and my family it was a time to come together. Christmas wasn't about the presents. We'd always go to church and make food and give it out to the homeless. It was more about the giving.

"At the end of the day, some people make Christmas into a competition with each other where they're trying to impress people with what they buy and they're more concerned about who has the best presents. Christmas should be about love, especially when you really don't know if all of your family members will be there for the next Christmas. Christmas is for enjoying your family.''

Henry will be with his Badger family this Christmas.  "Yes, sir, I will enjoy it - yes sir, it's very neat,'' he said, looking forward to Saturday's departure for Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.

UW middle linebacker Culmer St. Jean, like Henry, is not big on gifts.

"I always appreciated and cherished whatever I got at Christmas--I'm a person who always tries to give back,'' said St. Jean, a senior." My mom and dad didn't have all the money in the world. They worked hard and whatever they gave me was whatever they could give me. And that was enough.''

St. Jean has a 1-year-old daughter in Naples, Fla. "I do wish I could be home right now for her and my nephews and nieces,'' he said. "But my daughter was here for my graduation last Sunday. It's a little sad not being with her. She doesn't understand now, but she'll understand when she's older.''

She'll understand that her daddy started and played in a Rose Bowl.

Henry and St. Jean are among those players who will not have a chance to go home for Christmas Eve. Many others will have that option depending on their proximity to Madison.

Everybody will be expected to report to UW strength coach Ben Herbert for "conditioning" at 10:30 a.m. on Christmas Day. The team charter is scheduled to leave Madison at 1 p.m.

"In our last team meeting,'' said UW coach Bret Bielema, "we asked if anybody didn't have a place to go for Christmas Eve. And nobody raised their hand. Many of our local kids will grab some of our players who live out-of-state and treat them to a little bit of the holiday season.

"When we get to Pasadena on Christmas Day, we'll have a team meal. And being the giving guy that I am, I'm giving them the whole night to themselves. There will be no curfew. But the Grinch inside me tells me that there won't be many places open on Christmas night.''

So what was on Bielema's wish list for Christmas when he was a youngster?

"I wanted a new shovel and a pair of gloves or boots and I usually got them,'' said Bielema, who grew up on a pig farm in Illinois. "You accepted what you had and I didn't know what I didn't know.  When we were trying to stay warm on those cold days, a pair of gloves and boots worked.''

It speaks to Bielema's blue-collar approach to coaching. Given the amount of preparation that has gone into finalizing a game plan for a Rose Bowl appearance, Bielema had a simple game plan for his Christmas Eve."I'm going to sit at home,'' he said, "turn my phone off and never leave the house.''

Lucas at Large: Tolzien gets Rose Bowl advice from Tide's McElroy

UW quarterback Scott Tolzien received an early scouting report on what to expect when he steps on the field in the Rose Bowl from Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy who experienced the environment last season while leading the Tide to a 37-21 win over Texas in the 2010 BCS National Championship game.

After cracking two ribs in the SEC title game, McElroy was limited against the Longhorns and completed only 6-of-11 passes for 58 yards while being sacked five times. Still, he managed to put the ball in the hands of his tailbacks, Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, who combined to rush for 225 yards.

McElroy has always been associated with the phrase, "game manager." That has also applied to Tolzien during his two seasons as a starter at Wisconsin.

Statistically, they are very comparable in 2010.

Tolzien has completed 74 percent of his passes (182-of-245) for 2,300 yards. He has thrown for 16 touchdowns and been intercepted six times.

McElroy has completed 71 percent of his passes (209-of-296) for 2,767 yards. He has thrown for 19 touchdowns and been intercepted five times.

Tolzien ranks No. 4 nationally in passing efficiency (169.80).

McElroy ranks No. 6 nationally in passing efficiency (166.94).

(Note: Tolzien and McElroy sandwich TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Andy Dalton, who ranks No. 5 nationally in passing efficiency.)

Tolzien got to meet McElroy in New York City, where they were among 16 players honored by the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame as national scholar-athletes. Each receives an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship.

The Voice: Playing the Big Ten name game

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgSo it appears the early returns on the new Big Ten football division names are not exactly favorable. Leaders and Legends seem about as popular an idea around here as a Brett Favre tribute at Lambeau, or a Brad Childress Appreciation Day in Minneapolis.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said on WGN Radio last week that league is measuring the sustainability and taking feedback. Who knew this would be so involved?

One thing about my business that can be annoying (actually there are many, but it's the holiday season, so I won't go there today) is we are quick to pounce on something we don't like -- but how many serious suggestions do we make to solve the problem?

I have to admit, some of the smart aleck ideas are good for a chuckle. One of my favorites came from a caller to our local radio show last week (Lucas and Lepay on 1070 WTSO in Madison--shameless self-promotion).

The caller suggested we call the divisions "Six of One" and "Half Dozen of the Other." (I'll leave his name out ... but you hear him a lot at football and basketball home games!)

Other "helpful" suggestions include "Great Taste" and "Less Filling," "Dumb" and "Dumber" and other such ideas with varying degrees of humor.

Today, maybe we can put our heads together, and rather than make fun of the problem, we can be part of the solution. I'll throw out some ideas, but we at UWBadgers.com would love to hear yours. It would be great if they were legit thoughts, but if they are truly funny (and clean), go ahead and send 'em our way.

The Voice: A time to look back, and ahead

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgAnd now, a slight break in the action, at least in much of the world of Wisconsin athletics. Not a bad time to pause and reflect on some of what has happened so far, and what may lie ahead.

Early in the football season, I thought the Badgers were pretty good, but not an elite team. As they prepare for the Rose Bowl, they certainly have a chance to become part of the elite. Being a Big Ten champion is a REALLY good step, and if they can take the next step and beat third-ranked TCU in Pasadena, the Badgers certainly would be considered among the elite for the 2010 season.

It is at this time when it might be fun to be a bug on the wall in a team or position group meeting. No doubt for the past couple of weeks the players have been getting numerous pats on the back, with fans telling them how great they are. Given the long layoff between games, it can be an easy trap. This is where coaches play the role of humblers. Actually, they probably have been doing that throughout the season, especially since the Ohio State game, but I would guess at least some of the assistants have been ready to turn it up a notch.

At least one concern a coach generally has is that a team will get a little too full of itself, forgetting there is still a job to be done. I seriously doubt that this will become an issue. This team is as likeable and is as grounded a group as I have ever been around, led by coaches who are ready and willing to make sure they stay that way.

It never hurts to know you are the underdog, which is the case in this game.

Lucas at Large: Alvarez focused on bowl prep, not name game

You probably wouldn't have found "Legends" and "Leaders" on UW athletic director Barry Alvarez' list of potential names for the new divisions in the Big Ten. Then, again, you probably wouldn't have found a list, either.

"I really didn't get very involved in the process, and I didn't have a strong feeling on the names," Alvarez said. "I understand how they came up with 'Legends' and 'Leaders' and I'm fine with it."

Alvarez paused and added, "I know it's important, but I'm more of a meat and potatoes guy. I'm more concerned with how we block and tackle.''

Hence, he's looking forward to seeing how the UW matches up with TCU in the Rose Bowl. You would expect that out of someone who coached the Badgers for 16 seasons and was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Leading up to the actual playing of the game on Jan. 1, he's also dealing with the "meat and potatoes" of his job: the bottom line. In this context, he's keeping tabs on the logistics of designating an official travel party and expenses.

"We will not exceed our budget," he stressed.

Alvarez is sensitive to the scrutiny inherent to such bowl ventures. Especially when it involves taking a team to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl. The demand always exceeds the supply, whether for tickets or transparency.

The Badgers will be accommodating in all areas, Alvarez said.

"The people we will be taking from within the athletic department will all be in a working capacity on the trip," Alvarez said. "Every staff member will have an obligation at the bowl site due to the additional demands of a BCS game.

"We have established guidelines we will stick to. So does the Big Ten regarding the designation of an official travel party. In some cases, there are substitutions. People need to know there's a rhyme and reason to how it's done.

"I know there's a lot of scrutiny that goes along with the Rose Bowl. People on the outside want to know why specific people are going on the trip, and why they are in the travel party. We want to be transparent on all fronts."

Alvarez emphasized that the No. 1 priority will be the players and the coaches and their families. "People will have the opportunity to go to Pasadena because of our football program," he said.

To this end, he wants to make sure the players enjoy the experience, first and foremost. "But in the same sense," he said, "we want them to understand they're there to win a football game, and we will never lose sight of that."

Spoken like an Ol' Ball Coach.

"Our fans were another high priority," he said. "Every donor and season ticket-holder who requested tickets received a minimum of four tickets. We wanted to make sure we took care of our patrons. And we were able to do that."

Lucas at Large: Finding the 'Old Rob'

MILWAUKEE, Wis. - UW associate head coach Greg Gard doesn't like to dwell on the past. But he felt it was important to remind Rob Wilson of the positive history that he had with Marquette two years ago in the Bradley Center.

As a true freshman, Wilson came off the bench and accounted for seven points and five rebounds in 20 productive minutes against the Golden Eagles.

"The TV announcers talked about Rob and the words that they used to describe him were 'aggressive' and 'fearless,''' Gard said. "I told Rob if I was broadcasting a game right now, I would not use those two adjectives.''

Wilson_vs_Marquette.jpgThat's because Wilson has been tentative with his play since the beginning of the season when he was slowed by a hamstring injury. That cost him valuable practice time and minutes in the two exhibitions and first two games.

So instead of getting an opportunity to build some confidence against the likes of UW-La Crosse, Minnesota State, Prairie View A&M and North Dakota, he missed all four games and didn't see his first action until Nov. 20 at UNLV.

"It's all about me getting back into the routine now and sticking to the rules (on defense),'' said Wilson, a 6-foot-4 junior guard from Cleveland. "Once I get back on the same page with the guys, I feel like everything will be good.''

Wilson may have taken the first step towards becoming what Gard described as the "old Rob'' during Saturday's 69-64 win at Marquette. Wilson played 16 minutes and had three points, four rebounds and a steal.

"It always feels good to be out there - doing something to help the team win,'' Wilson said afterward. "I didn't want to take a step backward.''

Gard acknowledged that over the last few days of practice the "old Rob'' had begun emerging again. "He's a soft-spoken kid,'' Gard said. "And we're trying to get him to be more aggressive and play without thinking. It's a process.''

To earn more minutes - and earn is the operative word - the Badgers would like to see Wilson apply himself more consistently on the defensive end.

"He needs to be consistently aggressive,'' Gard said. "What put him behind some other guys defensively was that he got real tentative at times. And when he paused on how we guard certain actions or certain players, people were able to get open shots. We have to have guys who can get things done every possession.''

Message received. Wilson understands where he needs to take his game. "Coach Gard is always in my ear because he sees that I'm not playing the way they know I can play,'' Wilson said. "It's always good to have someone pushing.''

UW coach Bo Ryan used 12 players against Marquette and everybody contributed to one degree or another - underlining this team's bench strength.

"That's what we've been hoping for while we've been developing the bench,'' Ryan said. "They might not have seen a whole lot of minutes in some of the games. But Rob (Wilson) has been working his way back in practice.

"Jared (Berggren) has been doing some really good things in practice, too. So the fact we used those two plus Ben (Brust) - and everyone else off the bench - they were able to keep believing in each other. And that was contagious.''

Berggren had eight points in nine minutes against the Golden Eagles.

"I think that can be a strength of our team this year,'' Berggren said of the UW bench. "We have a lot of guys who can play. As long as we stay ready and step up when our name is called, I think we can do some good things.''

Asked about Wilson's contributions, Berggren said, "He was hurt early in the year and missed some time in practice. But he's catching up. We're going to need him down the stretch. It's good to see him playing well.''

After Saturday's win, Wilson sounded and looked confident - another adjective that may restore the Old Rob.
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- The lobby of the W Hotel was a Who's Who of college football Monday afternoon. Lou Holtz was holding court for UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, and Arizona head coach Mike Stoops. Also joining the group was Jay Norvell, the co-offensive coordinator for the Sooners and a former Alvarez assistant with the Badgers.

Later that night, Alvarez was honored during a reception at Maldney & Porchelli (a steakhouse on East 50th Street between Park and Madison Avenues). The guest list was impressive.

In one corner of the room was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and his wife, Bob Stoops and his wife, and former Iowa coach Hayden Fry and his wife. In another corner of the room were Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and the conference's director of officiating, Bill Carollo.

You couldn't walk anywhere in the room without bumping into a former Alvarez player, including Troy Vincent, Vitaly Pisetsky, Chris McIntosh, Tarek Saleh, Matt Bernstein, Chad Cascadden, Jim Sorgi, Brooks Bollinger and Travis Beckum.

UW head coach Bret Bielema was there, so was his offensive coordinator, Paul Chryst. Pat Richter was there, so was Al Toon. Henry Mason was there, so was Chuck Heater.

Alvarez had friends there from his hometown of Burgettstown (David Vallina, Phil Mavrich and Pat Gallagher). And he had friends there from one of his first coaching stops, Mason City, Iowa (Scott Raridon and Ed Lenius). Mostly he had friends there. Here, there, everywhere.

He had plenty of family there, too - wife Cindy and the kids and the grandkids.

Holtz spoke. So did UW chancellor Biddy Martin. Richter spoke. So did Commissioner Delany. Bollinger spoke - from the heart - and twice had to stop to collect himself after being overcome with emotion. Might have been one of the most heartfelt tribunes I've ever heard.

Alvarez spoke, of course. And Tuesday night, he spoke again during a black tie banquet at the Waldorf Astoria. Alvarez spoke for all of the members of the 2010 college football Hall of Fame class. And that speaks volumes for Barry Alvarez - Hall of Fame coach.

Lucas at Large: Badgers top NC State to get to Elite Eight

Alando Tucker called it the "worst half of basketball'' that he had experienced at Wisconsin.

Sharif Chambliss said the Badgers just "went through the motions.''

UW coach Bo Ryan ordered his players to "slow down.''

That was the backdrop to Wisconsin's spirited second half rally against North Carolina State in the Syracuse Regional semifinals of the 2005 NCAA basketball tournament.

For 20 minutes, the No. 6 seeded Badgers looked nothing like the Sweet 16 team that had knocked off Northern Iowa and Bucknell in the first and second rounds.

They had 11 turnovers and zero assists.

They made just seven of 18 field goal attempts.

They gave up 10 points in transition to North Carolina State.

They trailed 30-21 at halftime.

"We were a little too quick,'' Bo Ryan said. "Too quick with our feet. Too quick with our minds. We were racing just a little bit too fast.''

What was said during the intermission break?

"We got into each other,'' said Chambliss, a senior guard. "There were four or five people who were throwing fists and elbows in the locker room.''

He then removed his tongue from his cheek and stressed, "I'm just joking.''

It was no laughing matter for senior Mike Wilkinson, one of the most consistent players on the team, who suffered through a miserable first half: six points, five turnovers and two fouls.

"We totally got away from how we're used to playing in the first half,'' said UW guard Clayton Hanson. "I don't know what it was but we did some things that were uncharacteristic of us.''

The Badgers returned to form in the opening five minutes of the second half.

The first basket was scored by Hanson, who knocked down the UW's first triple of the night. The execution was flawless; a sign of things to come for the Badgers in the Carrier Dome.

The ball was entered to the post and Wilkinson, who drew a double-team on the right block. Wilkinson kept his poise and kicked a pass to the top of the key and Zach Morley, who reversed the ball to the left wing and Hanson. The extra pass made the difference in getting an open look.

"In the second half,'' Ryan said, "we played the way we've tried to play all year.''

On the strength of consecutive 3-pointers from Hanson, along with one from Chambliss, and the inside play of Wilkinson and Tucker, the Badgers staggered the Wolfpack with an offensive flurry.

Tucker was virtually unstoppable, scoring eight straight points during one run.

"When I'm in a stretch like that, you just want to keep going,'' said Tucker, who sparked the UW into a 47-37 lead. "Guys kept feeding me and I was hot. When we're down, I have to pull us up.''

The Badgers shot 58 percent (14 of 24) in the second half.

Tucker finished with a game-high 22, and Wilkinson added 17.

"We had a good time in the second half,'' said Chambliss, who returned to Madison this year to be the video coordinator on Ryan's staff. "We just went out and played ball.''

Nobody had a better game defensively than Hanson, the senior from Reedsburg, who was matched against North Carolina State's marquee player, Julius Hodge, a senior from Harlem.

Hodge clearly looked frustrated at times and managed to convert on just 4-of-16 shots. Hodge's first basket came on a put-back after which he woofed, "This guy can't guard me.''

Hanson didn't back down.

Instead, he helped shut down Hodge.

"It was a team effort,'' Hanson said.

The victory over N.C. State advanced the Badgers into the Regional finals where they were eliminated by the North Carolina Tar Heels, who went on to win the national championship.

Beating the Wolfpack and getting to the Elite Eight was still a meaningful accomplishment.

Especially since the UW's 25th win matched the school record.

"The lack of respect that we have been getting all year,'' Morley said, "has really blown up in a lot of people's faces because nobody thought we'd be this successful.''

(Wednesday night, the Badgers and the Wolfpack will meet for the first time since Syracuse - and only the second time overall - as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge at the Kohl Center.)

Lucas at Large: Gasser growing through ups and downs

Following Monday's practice, UW guard Josh Gasser grabbed a basketball and a retriever (Evan Anderson) and shot a series of jumpers from beyond the 3-point arc.

After making two out of his first four attempts from 3-point distance in the season opener, Gasser has made just one of his last 13 shots from beyond the arc.

Typical of his play so far, Gasser is confident that he will find his range soon.

"When you're only taking two or three outside shots a game making that first one is kind of crucial and that's what I've got to do,'' said Gasser, who has attempted only six 3-pointers over the last three games. "I've been struggling a little bit. But it will come back. I'm not worried about it.''

That's the type of attitude that has endeared Gasser to UW coach Bo Ryan, who has shown plenty of confidence in his true freshman. Gasser, a starter, is averaging the most minutes among Big Ten freshmen with 29 minutes of playing time per game.

So what has Gasser learned after his six-game exposure to college basketball?

"You have to think quickly - that's pretty much the main thing,'' said Gasser, who averaged a double-double in points and rebounds each of the past three years at Port Washington High School.

"Once you get the ball, you've got to go. You've got to be aggressive offensively. Even if you're struggling a little, you still have to make yourself a threat to help out Jon and Jordan.''

The reference was to Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor, who are one-two in scoring. In fact, Leuer (18.2 points per game) and Taylor (13.2) are the only UW players averaging in double-digits.

"The scouting reports are focused on Jon and Jordan which obviously they should be,'' said Gasser, who's the third-leading scorer with a 9.2 average. "That leaves the rest of us more open.

"So when we get shots, we have to knock them down. When we get attacking lanes (to the basket), we have to take advantage of that, too.''

Like most first-year players, Gasser is adjusting to how each game is being officiated. "Some games they let you play a little bit and it's physical,'' he said. "Sometimes they call it a little tighter.''

The biggest adjustment for Gasser has come at the defensive end.

"Guys are so much quicker and stronger and athletic, so you can't take a play off and you always have to be alert,'' Gasser said. "Guards are crashing the boards hard so you have to find a body.''

That's one area where Gasser has excelled. He's averaging 5.5 rebounds.

Gasser's resolve will be put to the test Wednesday night against North Carolina State which features two very highly touted freshmen guards, 6-foot-5 Lorenzo Brown and 6-1 Ryan Harrow.

Brown leads the Wolfpack in points, minutes, assists and steals.

Gasser's learning curve will be accelerated. But he has been preparing for it.

That's why he was putting up those extra shots after Monday's practice.
ON WISCONSIN