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A nauseous Josh Gasser got his wake-up call at 12:30 a.m. Saturday. The UW sophomore guard was not green in honor of St. Patrick's Day, either. Mike Bruesewitz was watching a movie when he heard something that he didn't want to hear from Gasser, his road roommate.
"Josh went to the bathroom," Bruesewitz related, "and he says, 'Mike, call Henry.'"
Henry is Henry Perez-Guerra, the trainer for the UW men's basketball team.
"That's when I got quarantined out of my room," said Bruesewitz, who joined Badger teammates Dan Fahey and Jordan Smith in their hotel room. Gasser was isolated, and the virus was severe enough that he was unable to get back to sleep because of vomiting and diarrhea.
"To be honest, I probably only slept from noon to 2 (p.m.) until we left for the game," he said.
It was not just any game, mind-you, but a third round NCAA Tournament game against Vanderbilt, the No. 5 seed. In preparation for chasing and checking John Jenkins - a prolific 3-point sniper - Gasser had three Saltine crackers. "That was my pre-game meal," he said.
Throughout his ordeal, he was hooked up to IVs. He didn't suffer alone, though. Bo Ryan's wife, Kelly, was too sick to attend the game. So was redshirt freshman Jarrod Uthoff. The virus also weakened several members of the UW travel party, including some cheerleaders.
In the early morning hours, Bruesewitz admitted that "It was looking real suspect." That was his prognosis on whether Gasser would be ready for the 4:10 p.m. tipoff (MT) at The Pit. The prospect of trying to deal with Jenkins without Gasser would be the pits, he thought.
"But we have world class trainers in Henry and Dr. O (Dr. John Orwin, the team's orthopedic surgeon)," Bruesewitz said. "They were really proactive and able to get fluids into Josh and they got everything under control. I didn't think for a second that Josh wasn't going to play. He's a tough kid."
By then, Gasser had already made up his mind. "I knew I was going to play, it really wasn't a question," said Gasser, a member of the Big Ten's All-Defensive team. "But I also knew that I wasn't going to play as much as I normally do because I didn't have the energy that I normally do."
That was apparent during the pregame warm-ups. Not only did Gasser look peaked, but he appeared to be conserving energy, by design. "I got a few shots up," he said. "But I knew I would be chasing Jenkins around most of the game and I wanted to be able to maintain that for 40 minutes."
UW coach Bo Ryan did a masterful job managing his bench and getting the most out of Gasser, who played 24 minutes in the UW's hard-fought 60-57 win over Vanderbilt. "I definitely didn't want this to be my last game this year because it would have been tough to swallow," Gasser said.
Not to worry, the Boston-bound Badgers have survived on their grit and toughness and advanced to the Sweet 16 where they will run into a No. 1 seed, Syracuse, in Thursday's East Regional semifinals at the TD Garden, the 18,000-seat home venue for the Celtics and Bruins.
"It's not about how you start, it's about how you finish, that's the best way to describe it," Bruesewitz said in response to a question about the UW's 1-3 start in the Big Ten. "We knew we had a tough group, a real gritty group. Maybe the best example is Josh getting sick the night before the game.
"But what happens in the closing minutes? Jordan (Taylor) missed a shot, and who tracks it down? Josh. He gets fouled, misses the free throw, but Ryan Evans comes up with a big defensive rebound on Jenkins miss and then Berg (Jared Berggren) knocks down their in-bounds pass."
All those contributions, Bruesewitz pointed out, came from different contributors. That's how the final box score read, too. Five different players scored 10 or more points and everybody who got into the Vanderbilt game came down with at least two rebounds; highlighting the team balance.
"I've been saying this for a long time," Berggren said, "when we get all of our guys contributing that's when we are at our best. When we get Mike (Bruesewitz) shooting the ball and Ben (Brust) shooting the ball and Josh gritting through his illness ... that's just huge."
Referencing that 1-3 conference pothole in early January, Berggren said, "We still knew we had a good team, and we never got too down on ourselves. Guys kept believing and we kept fighting and we were able to turn things around and get on a winning streak."
Maybe the Badgers needed a starting point, albeit a season low point, to build from. That's how UW associate head coach Greg Gard saw it. "That 1-3 stretch toughened us, and forced us to grow up in areas where we needed to be mature in," he said. "It's all about how you respond to adversity."
As such, Ryan and his assistants leave nothing to chance. Thus with the uncertainty surrounding Gasser's availability, they got Traevon Jackson and Duje Dukan ready to play against Vandy, if needed. "We wanted to make sure they knew what we were trying to do and were ready to go," Gard said.
Was there any doubt about Gasser? Not for Gard. "He's a gritty kid, a hard-nosed kid," he said. "Unless the doctor was going to make him stay in the hotel room, he was going to play. You have to credit him for gutting it out, and you have to credit his teammates for stepping up."
That has been the storyline since the players assembled to run Elver Hill at the start of classes. "We had a lot of young guys who had to grow up and be in these roles for the first time," Gard said. "I don't know in November whether they would have had the grit to get through this (Vandy)."
After Friday's practice, Gard discussed some of the keys for controlling Jenkins and beating the Commodores. "It's going to come down to a lot of blood and guts plays,'' he said. "At this stage of the season, a lot of times the hustle plays make the difference.''
When the contact escalated in The Pit, the Badgers felt like they were in their element. "It was one of the more physical games we've played, and usually Big Ten games are physical," Gasser said. "But this was right up there. That's how it's supposed to be - that's how you want it to go to the Sweet 16."
When he was on the floor, Gasser made it as tough as he could on Jenkins, and he got plenty of help from his teammates. "They were setting double and triple screens for him," Gasser said, "and he does a really good job of creating space, and getting that extra step. That's all he really needs."
The guards were not solely responsible for contesting Jenkins' shots. "I was just trying to get a hand in his face," said Berggren. "We knew that if I played off and let him come off their bigs uncontested, he's going to knock down those shots, especially coming right to left, he's money."
That's how it unfolded in the dramatic closing seconds with the Badgers clinging to a precarious two-point lead. Vanderbilt ran a play for Jenkins who came off a Festus Ezeli screen and got separation on his chaser. Moving right to left, he launched a shot from beyond the arc.
"I tried to come out on him, but I was probably a half-step late," Berggren said. "I tried to get a hand up as much as possible but he got a pretty good look. When the ball was in the air, I think my heart stopped for a second. It was straight-on and I thought, 'Please don't go in.'
"But he back-rimmed it, and Ryan (Evans) made a big play getting the rebound."
Evans fought off the 6-foot-11, 255-pound Ezeli for the board. The Vandy bench protested that he had pushed off, but Ezeli had been clearing space the whole game. "He was one of the biggest dudes I've ever played against," Evans said. "I got into his body and went up and grabbed it and got fouled."
Evans made one free throw, and Berggren deflected the in-bounds pass to seal the win - sending the Badgers into the Sweet 16. "It says so much about us as a team," Evans said. "Everyone is contributing. In order to make a deep run that's what you have to do, and we're doing it."
Jordan Taylor knew his teammates had enough grit to get it done. "When we were up by seven with six minutes left we knew it was far from over," he said. "We knew that they weren't going away quietly. But we were able to withstand their run and make just enough plays to win."
Taylor's dad was in Albuquerque but his mom didn't make the trip because of the travel expense. But she has a ticket for Boston. And the Badgers have punched theirs. "We didn't want to send Jordan and Rob home early," Bruesewitz said. "We like those guys too much."
UW freshman George Marshall lived every shooter's dream during Friday's practice at The Pit. Marshall got the "green light" to shoot just about every time that he touched the basketball while playing the role of Vanderbilt's John Jenkins on the scout team.
Now in all fairness, the Commodores are not a One Man Gang. They have more scoring options than the 21-year-old Jenkins, who's averaging 20 points. His tag team partner is Jeffery Taylor, who's averaging 16. Three other starters are averaging nine points.
That being said, Jenkins has to be focal point, and he was for Marshall.
Since arriving on campus, Marshall has gotten stronger while adding some muscle weight to his frame. At 5-foot-11, 187-pounds, though, he still falls short of measuring up physically to Jenkins (6-4, 215), the leader scorer in the Southeast Conference.
Size aside, Marshall tried to give the rotation a good picture of Jenkins, who sparked Vandy to a 79-70 win over Harvard here Thursday night. Eight of Jenkins' 12 field goal attempts were from beyond the 3-point arc and 10 of his game-high 27 points from the line.
Wisconsin's Bo Ryan cut to the "chase" on Jenkins.
Chase is the operative word. More on that later.
"He can score from the 3-point line about any way possible - step backs, fades," Ryan said. "If you know of any way to stop him, please feel free... I can get you my number. What a prolific scorer. When they use that term, I've heard them use it about a lot of guys.
"But for him (Jenkins), if you looked it up (in a dictionary), you'd see his picture."
This season, the Badgers have enacted the "Marshall Plan" in preparation for opponents whereby Marshall, who's redshirting, has tried to simulate some of the top guards in college basketball for Jordan Taylor, Josh Gasser, Rob Wilson and Ben Brust.
"He's got the fastest release in America," Marshall said of Jenkins. "With our defensive guys already knowing what he's going to do, it was kind of tough for me to emulate what he does with our defense right there in my face.
"He's a great shooter and I did my best to emulate him. Almost every play was for Jenkins, so I definitely got some shots up. To shoot almost 50 percent (.481) with the amount of times that he shoots (445 field goal attempts) says a lot for him.
"Today, I just worked on getting my shot off as fast as I could."
When asked about Josh Gasser - who will draw the defensive assignment on Jenkins - Marshall said, "Josh is really a great defender, especially off the ball. He's really good at chasing. You can go through a lot of screens and he will still be right there with you."
Gasser stressed the importance of sticking to fundamental rules and concepts. "First, you can't let him get going," he said. "If he gets one or two, he's going to keep knocking them down. You have to chase hard over screens and run him off the 3-point line."
If only it was as easy as it sounds. "Obviously, he's good slashing and he can get to the rim," Gasser went on. "But really his strength is shooting 3's. I think he's averaging almost four per game which is pretty unheard of."
Jenkin's 3.8 made 3-pointers per game is actually unheard of this season, it ranks No. 1 in the NCAA.
Has Gasser faced anyone comparable to Jenkins? "I don't think anyone has the same release; he has about the quickest one around, probably the quickest we've seen," he said. "But (Ohio State's) William Buford and (Iowa's) Matt Gatens come to mind."
Team defense, as always, will be the point of emphasis for the Badgers; especially in containing Jenkins. "Getting a hand up on him is going to be the biggest thing," said Ryan Evans. "We've got to make it difficult for him to shoot."
Rob Wilson brought up the collective awareness of the five players on the floor defensively. "You just have to be aware of where he's at," he said. "You have to take him off the 3-point line. You have to be right on his tail when he's coming off screens."
Cutting to that chase, he said, "Basically you can't let him breathe out there.''
Not allowing Jenkins to catch the ball - or limiting his touches - would be an ideal scenario. In addition, UW associate head coach Greg Gard said, "You try not to make mistakes and not feed his fire, so to speak, and I can use Rob Wilson as an example."
In the Big Ten tournament, Wilson scored a career-high 30 points against Indiana. "He got free a couple of times early, got a couple to go down and then it didn't matter how they guarded him, he had some confidence going, a little Mojo going," Gard said.
Jenkins has gotten off 10 or more shots in 31 of 34 games. Twice, he was "held" to nine attempts. His low was five shots against Mississippi, and he made all five, and finished with 26 points on the strength of going 12-of-15 from the free throw line.
"He's going to hit tough shots, and you know that he's going to get his shots," Gard said. "You just can't give him the freebies that start his fire. He's too proven and too good. The biggest thing is trying to make everything as tough as possible for him.
"Just watching some clips of him, he gets it off so fast, but he gets it off when he's crowded, too. If he gets just sliver of daylight, it's gone and he gets fouled a lot on those shots. He's a savvy veteran; he kicks the leg out, twists and run into you at times."
What's the best advice Gard can give to Gasser? "Chase hard, stick to your rules," he said. "You have to be on high alert; you can't fall asleep or he'll make you pay. We're not going to change much about what we do; it's still about good habits and outworking him."
Gard suggested Gasser "has to be a tough sucker" to handle the screens that are set for a shooter like Jenkins. "You've got 6-11 guys who are trying to knock you into the third row," he said. "Our best defenders have always been mentally and physically tough."
That would be Gasser. Cutting to that aforementioned chase again, Gard concluded, "It's going to come down to a lot of blood and guts plays. When you get to this stage of the season, a lot of times the hustle plays can make the difference."
Jared Berggren knew what was coming and he was ready for it; the 6-foot-11 Wisconsin center was ready for the challenge that Montana's guards, Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar, would present by attacking the paint off the dribble.
"There were going to be some situations where I knew that I would have to pick up the ball-handler,'' he said. "The way their bigs can pick and pop, there were some times where we had to switch out and make sure we didn't give them open looks on the outside.
"I knew that I had to do a good job of protecting the rim and moving my feet when I got switched out on the guards. And I was lucky enough to get a few blocks today.''
Lucky? A few blocks? Berggren finished with a career- high seven blocked shots, which set a school record in an NCAA game (Andy Kowske had four blocks against Michigan State in the semifinals of the Final Four in 2000).
That doesn't take into account all the shots that Berggren altered, too.
Only two players in UW history have had more blocks in a single game: Brad Sellers (9 in 1982) and Kim Hughes (8 in 1973). This season, Berggren now has 6o blocked shots; the most by a Badger since Rashard Griffin had 66 in 1994. Sellers has the record with 68 in '83.
Was Berggren aware of how many shots he had blocked against Montana? "Not until after the game,'' he said. "I knew that I had a good number but I didn't realize it was seven until the guys told me (in the locker room).''
Berggren's undeniable presence guarding the rim helped contribute to the offensive struggles of Cherry who had only nine points on 3-of-14 shooting. Cherry had scored in double-figures in 19 straight games; 10 times scoring 20 or more, including a career-high 30.
Wisconsin's senior captain Jordan Taylor had a lot to do with stifling Cherry, who got into early foul trouble. As a result, what was billed as a classic matchup between elite point guards - Taylor and Cherry - turned out to be a complete mismatch in Taylor's favor.
Taylor had 17 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers in 36 minutes. His backcourt partner, Josh Gasser, was also a significant contributor, not only with his 12 points - a nice bounce back after going scoreless against Michigan State - but with his defense.
Gasser held Montana's Kareem Jamar to just six points (3-of-8); only the fourth time in 32 games that he has been held under 10. Jamar had five triples and scored 23 points in the Grizzlies' win over Weber State in the Big Sky championship game.
Gasser limited Jamar to one attempt from beyond the 3-point arc, which he missed.
"I knew that he has been a big part of their offense,'' Gasser said. "Just looking at their last game (against Weber State) he can pull it from 3. If you put a hand down, he'll shoot it and make it. He has been shooting a very high percentage (.445) all year.
"I just tried to limit his touches from the perimeter. Get up in him. Always have a hand up at all times because he's such a good 3-point shooter. At the same time, he can drive, too. It was a full team effort that way.''
Enter Berggren who repeatedly turned away Jamar and Cherry at the rim.
"I heard that he had seven blocks - seemed like 10,'' Gasser said. "Coming off those ball screens, Jared was sticking with the guards when they were trying to take him one-on-one. He did a real good job of eliminating them that way by getting a piece off the ball.''
Gasser felt Berggren's defense was one of the keys to the victory. Another key was how the Badgers shot the ball effectively against Montana's zone defense. The message was clear: the Griz were challenging Wisconsin to make shots; an understandable strategy.
"They played the match-up zone and kind of sagged off and hoped that we would miss a few shots,'' Gasser said. "We just wanted to get good looks, and I think we did. Ryan (Evans) got us started and we all followed him.''
Finding the soft spot in the zone, Evans had 14 of his 18 points in the first half.
"We were patient moving the ball around the perimeter,'' Gasser said. "Ryan was kind of floating on the baseline and just waiting for things to happen. When he got the ball, he was aggressive and confident.''
Vanderbilt will pose a far greater challenge on Saturday to the Badgers who need to stay aggressive and confident as a team. Physically and athletically, the Commodores compare favorably with Big Ten opponents like Michigan State and Ohio State.
Whereas Montana was undersized and overmatched that certainly won't be the case with Vandy which has proven that it can play with anyone in the nation including a heavyweight like Kentucky; a 71-64 loser to the Commodores in the SEC title game.
John Jenkins, a silky-smooth 6-4 junior guard, was the leading scorer in the conference with a 20-point average. Jenkins is particularly deadly from beyond the arc. Coming into the NCAA tournament, he had 129 triples, 75 more than Jordan Taylor.
Vanderbilt also has a Taylor - Jeffrey Taylor, who's originally from Norrkoping, Sweden, was named to the All-SEC first team, along with Jenkins. Taylor, who averages 16 points, played his high school basketball in New Mexico and won a state title at The Pit.
Throughout the season, Berggren has been matched against some talented "bigs '' in the Big Ten: Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, Indiana's Cody Zeller and Illinois' Meyers Leonard. He's more than held his own, too.
Saturday, Berggren will draw Vandy's 6-11, 250-pound senior center, Festus Ezeli, a native of Nigeria. Ezeli missed the first eight games of the season, while recovering from sprained ligaments in his knee. The Commodores are 15-6 with Ezeli in the starting lineup.
Last Sunday, Ezeli had 17 points, six rebounds and four dunks against Kentucky's freshman phenom Anthony Davis, who's likely to be the Player of the Year in college basketball. Davis had dominated Ezeli in the two previous meetings.
His teammates call him Fes. His full name is Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndelue. By any name, it's March and anything can happen in these matchups. Berggren will have to be ready again.
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.''
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."