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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."
Type-casting is a big part of basketball - it's as simple as one, two, three.
The one is the point guard, the two is the shooting guard, the three is the small forward.
So when did the "shooting guard" become a part of the lexicon for Josh Gasser?
"Ever since the second or third grade when you started playing organized basketball and you always heard the term, 'Shooting guard,"' said Gasser, a UW sophomore, and shooting guard.
"You always knew what that position was - usually a scorer or someone who could handle the ball and do a little bit of everything. Probably the first shooting guard I looked up to was Ray Allen."
In most circles, Jordan Taylor is viewed as a point guard or lead guard. The shooting guards, or the two guards, are Gasser, Ben Brust and Rob Wilson. Or not.
"The good thing with us," Gasser said of coach Bo Ryan's system at Wisconsin, "is that we don't really specify that you're the shooting guard or you're whatever."
At this level of competition, he suggested that your game has to be well-rounded.
When Brust was asked if he could remember the first time that someone used the expression shooting guard in his company, he said, "It was at an age when you really don't remember things."
Does Brust look at himself as a shooting guard?
"I'm a guard," he said. "I think I'm more than a shooting - closed quotation - guard. I guess it's always been brought up as the two-guard being known as the shooting guard.
"But I just like to be known as a guard who can do a little bit of everything, if possible."
The genesis for the discussion on shooting guards was the Ohio State loss.
Gasser, Brust and Wilson combined for only two points against the Buckeyes.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard addressed that result before the Minnesota game.
"We've got three guys who have played that position and who are capable of putting the ball in the basket at a higher rate than what they've done," he said. "All of them need to be more aggressive."
Each of the players has taken that to heart, too.
"In Josh's case, he's getting a lot of minutes (37.5 per Big Ten game)," Gard went on. "But his attempts to score per minute have been pretty low. It's something we've talked about."
Gasser responded by driving the ball at every opportunity against the Gophers.
"I did try to be a little more aggressive," said Gasser, who finished with nine points, four assists and zero turnovers in 39 minutes. "I found lanes that were open for me early in the game.
"Towards the end, I also found myself attacking and good things wound up happening - not only for myself but for my teammates.
"Even in overtime, when I penetrated and missed the lay-up, Ryan (Evans) got the offensive rebound and the put-back that really helped us extend our lead.
"I definitely made a conscious effort (to be more aggressive) and it worked out. We have to have all five guys being aggressive and attacking and looking to create for ourselves or teammates.
"Usually good things happen when we do that."
That was Gard's point for all three shooting guards.
"We've been trying to get Ben to be more diverse in his game," Gard said, "by attacking more and making plays for himself or others off the dribble while not being so reliant on the 3 (point shot).
"For Rob, it's just a matter of consistency and playing at a high level when he gets in there."
Brust agreed with Gard's overall assessment. "There are times where all the guards on the team have opportunities and we've got to be more aggressive with them," he said.
What about his reliance on shooting from beyond the 3-point arc?
Fifty-one of his 78 attempts have come from that distance in Big Ten games.
"I think I can maybe do some different things than just shoot and I may have been relying on that (the 3-point shot) too much recently," Brust said.
There have been times when Brust has been accused of "going too fast" by the coaches.
"Instead of just reading and reacting, you're reading and reacting too fast," Brust acknowledged. "You have to do it fast. But you have to do it with a calm fast. If that makes sense."
It does to Gard who sees the advantages of getting his shooting guards on track - in a hurry.
"We haven't had two out of three be consistent in the same game yet," Gard said. "As we go through the latter half of the season and into postseason play, we've got to have that group mature.
"If we could get a dozen points or 16 points out of the three guards combined that would be great. That's not asking anyone to even get double-figures.
"They have to play to make something happen - not play to not make a mistake. They're all good enough players and they've all done it at some point in their careers.
"Sometimes it's a matter of confidence and having it happen a few times. If it does happen, then it will open some doors for all three of them to be more aggressive in the future."
Running backs coach Thomas Hammock, for one, is no stranger to offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who coached him at Northern Illinois.
"The greatest compliment a player can give to a coach is to recommend him,'' said Hammock, a former 1,000-yard rusher who had to give up football because of a heart conditioning.
"There were times when I was a player where I didn't understand why we were doing things or why I had to run 50 yards and everyone else ran 20.
"But as you get older those things that he (Canada) taught me at a young age carried over as far as the type of person and coach that I am now.''
By the sounds of it, Hammock is already on the same wavelength with offensive line coach Mike Markuson. That is critical since Hammock is responsible for coaching Wisconsin's running backs.
"He loves to run the ball which I'm sure my guys are going to be happy about,'' Hammock said. "I'm anxious to get started on putting together a playbook and building our offense for next season.''
Having Montee Ball return for his senior year is a tremendous starting point, of course.
"My philosophy is not going to change and I explained that to Montee,'' Hammock said. "You have to go back out there and earn it - it's the 'What have you done for me lately?' approach.
"I know Montee is going to take the challenge, along with some of other guys. You've got James White, who wants a bigger piece of the pie and Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis competing on a daily basis.
"You definitely have to have a plan of attack and I expressed that to the whole group. I talked to them about everyone starting from ground zero, which is no different from a year ago at this time.''
How much, if at all, will the Badgers expose Ball to contact during spring practice?
"We practice so hard and with so much intensity,'' Hammock said, "to me that can override a lot of things to where maybe Montee doesn't have to get tackled in the spring.''
The Badgers have been known for a high practice tempo that precludes scrimmaging.
"I told Montee, 'You're going to get a lot of reps this spring because you came back (to Wisconsin) to get better; you didn't come back to just stay the same,''' Hammock related.
"The only way to do that is go out there every day and do the work to improve.''
What about working Ball and White into the same formation?
What about maximizing the depth at the tailback position?
"We lost a lot of key pieces from last season (Russell Wilson, Nick Toon, Bradie Ewing) so you try to find ways to fill that production,'' Hammock said.
"I thought the way we (the running backs) were used in the passing game was really, really good. We went from 30 catches to 60 and we can go from 60 to 90. That's an area we can help the team.
"Maybe in different ways that involves using guys out of the backfield or lining up at wide receiver. All that stuff is down the line as we continue to develop and mold the playbook.''
Traevon Jackson agreed to page through his photo album; committed to memory or otherwise.
In one snapshot, he's pictured with his fourth- and fifth-grade teammates: Trey Burke, now a freshman point guard at Michigan, and Jared Sullinger, now a sophomore All-American at Ohio State. (That's Jackson at far left in the front row and Sullinger at far right in the back row).
"We were all on the same team along with Adam Griffin (one of Archie's kid),'' said Jackson, a UW freshman. "He (Sullinger) used to eat at McDonald's every day and come out and shoot 3s.
"He was in fifth grade and only about 5-9; but he was big and chubby. Now, he's in great shape (6-9, 280). He's obviously improved his body a lot. He's a great player. He was still good then.''
There's a second snapshot of Jackson; a more recent one from last February.
Picture him in Wisconsin colors working the cash register and bagging groceries. During his senior year at Westerville (Ohio) South High School, he held a part-time job at a grocery store.
On this particular day -- Feb 12, 2011 -- the store employees were encouraged to honor their favorite college team. Since Jackson was committed to being a Badger, he represented accordingly.
Everybody else was in Ohio State colors.
"Everybody else in the store was sad,'' Jackson said, "except me.''
That was the day that the Badgers beat the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes at the Kohl Center. Jackson listened to the game on the radio and then raced home after work and watched the TV highlights.
"That was big,'' he said with a big grin.
Jackson will have a front row seat -- on the UW bench -- for Saturday's matchup against No. 3 Ohio State. Although his playing time has been limited, he will continue to prepare like he's a starter.
"That's the toughest thing going into games knowing that you may not step on the court,'' Jackson said, "but knowing in the back of your head that you've got to be ready.''
Jackson last played on Jan. 18 against Northwestern.
Overall, he's seen action in only 12 of 23 games.
"I honestly thought I'd be playing a little more,'' said Jackson. "But that's not the case. We've got guys ahead of me: Rob (Wilson) who's a senior and Ben (Brust) who has put in his time as well.
"You've got to respect that and just be ready whenever your time comes.''
A year ago, Brust went through the same freshman transition that Jackson is going through now. Brust played in just 15 of 34 games. He got fewer minutes (45) than Jackson already has seen (89).
This season, Brust has become a key contributor in the "sixth man'' role.
"He has obviously been a huge part of our success,'' Jackson said. "He stretches the defense. We need that. He's a guy who can come off the bench and create and knock down shots.
"Ben put in his work and his time came to perform (this year).
"That's what I've got to do (perform) when my time comes.''
During Thursday's practice, Jackson was wearing a white jersey -- which is worn by the starters and the top reserves. Wilson had a class and, in his absence, Jackson took his place in the rotation.
At one point, UW coach Bo Ryan teased Jackson about socializing with the scout team.
"Tomorrow, I will be back to the scout team,'' Jackson said afterward. "But it was nice today to see where you want to be in the future. You can show off your skill set while you're with the first team.''
Gearing up physically and mentally for every practice has been a part of Jackson's adjustment.
"It's a grind and you definitely have to be committed to it 100 percent,'' he said. "You have to have your focus every day. That's the biggest thing -- being consistent and giving that effort every day.''
Realistically, he conceded, it's just human nature to slough off sometimes. "But you have to push through things that you're not used to doing,'' he said.
That's part of the maturing process, Jackson added.
"The biggest key is mental toughness,'' he said. "To me, it means fighting through adversity when things aren't going right. You have to find a way to make it right -- regardless.
"If you're not hitting shots some days, you have to find other ways to get involved in the game. You have to find ways to stay active and not get down on yourself.
"You might not be playing some games. But you still have to find that desire and toughness to come back every day and get better by staying in the gym.''
Jackson feels like his game has definitely gotten better this season.
"I'm working daily on my ball-handling, working on my shooting, working on things that I feel I can bring to the team,'' he said. "As long as I'm doing these things when my time comes I'll be fine.''
The older, more experienced players have been supportive while reminding Jackson that "It's just a process -- some of them went through it -- and they just tell you to keep working'' in practice.
"That all goes back to being ready,'' Jackson said. "God forbid, if Rob or Ben got hurt, I'd have to be ready. Or, if they get in foul trouble, I'd have to be ready. That's the way I've prepared.''
Nobody is better prepared to simulate Ohio State on the scout team than Jackson, who has played with or against Sullinger, Jordan Sibert, J.D. Weatherspoon and LaQuinton Ross.
On the AAU circuit, he's also crossed paths with Aaron Craft, Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson.
"I pretty much know all of their games,'' Jackson said.
By his own admission, he will likely get more emotional in late February when Wisconsin and Ohio State play in Columbus because there will be a lot of family and friends in attendance.
Picture this: Traevon Jackson playing in the same arena where his dad's jersey is one of the retired numbers hanging from the rafters. Jim Jackson was a two-time All-American at Ohio State.
For now, though, his only focus is Saturday's game against the Buckeyes at the Kohl Center.
"I'm a Badger,'' he said. "We've got to beat them regardless of where my hometown is.''
As the lone holdover on the offensive coaching staff, Thomas Hammock felt an obvious urgency to hold recruiting together with defensive assistants Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash.
More to the point, Hammock said, "We were just trying to do the best we could to hold on and keep this thing moving forward for our kids in the program and the kids we were trying to get.''
That entailed, he said, "Mapping out a plan and seeing the kids we needed to see'' from the standpoint of "making sure we allocated our time and resources appropriately'' on home visits.
As the interim recruiting coordinator, Partridge suggested, "I won't say it was survival mode, but it was right on the edge of it - you're making sure you're hitting and covering all of your bases.''
Partridge was invaluable in this capacity.
"Charlie is great at organizational skills,'' said UW head coach Bret Bielema.
Partridge's resume includes a two-year stint as the director of football operations at Iowa State.
"My mind is very grid-oriented,'' he said. "I'm a mathematical-type guy.''
That led to making sure there was a list and everything was prioritized.
"We really got into that mode where every important kid in this class was getting hit and getting hit by the right person,'' he said. "Thomas and Chris did a great job.''
There were also significant contributions from the staff underlings: graduate assistants Ben Strickland and Luke Swan and quality control coordinators Bart Miller and Terrance Jamison.
Strickland has since been promoted to a full-time position.
"Putting those four guys on the road was a great opportunity for them and they came through in flying colors,'' Partridge said. "The in-state (prep) coaches talked about how great of a job they did.
"I'm so proud of them for that.''
Besides laying the groundwork for this season's preferred walk-ons, Partridge noted, "Every staff in the country is getting ahead on junior recruiting and we didn't want to lose ground there.''
The Badgers signed 12 players on Wednesday.
"I think it was a blessing in disguise that it was a small class,'' Bielema admitted. "If you were dealing with a class of 22 or 23, it would have been, I think, a real challenge (to hold the class together).''
Ash had experienced similar circumstances at previous coaching stops.
"Been there before, done it before, so it wasn't anything that was really unexpected for me,'' he said. "You've got to be on the same page, you've got to be organized and you can't waste time.
"There's no down time at all. You're on the go all the time. It's pretty much non-stop. But that's why we're each in this profession. I love meeting people, I love to travel, and I love the university here.
"January is always hectic and crazy as you're coming down to the wire with recruiting. When you're shorthanded with staff, it just means you have to get to a few more places in a few less days.''
With the signing of safety D.J. Singleton, the Badgers were able to reopen the door to New Jersey, which has historically been a very fertile recruiting area for the UW program. QB Joe Brennan and TE/FB Sherard Cadogan will both be redshirt sophomores next year.
"This was my first year recruiting there (New Jersey),'' Hammock acknowledged. "But one thing I've always believed is that if you can recruit, you can recruit anywhere.
"Wisconsin is a great brand to a lot of people out East. We had a small class overall this year and the number of kids we offered was smaller but we're certainly making progress (in that region).''
Throughout the recruiting period, Hammock reassured high school prospects and coaches that "Wisconsin is a program that has been doing well for a long time and that's not going to change.''
In the end, Hammock stressed, the objective was to send the message to each recruit that "You're going to be a key piece to the puzzle as we try to win another Big Ten championship.''
That recruiting pitch never gets old.