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Wednesday night's top-25 match-up between Wisconsin and Florida is a case of strength vs. strength. Last season the Gators led the NCAA in made 3-pointers per game with an average of 9.5 per outing and shooting at rate of 38 percent. Florida's backcourt of Kenny Boyton (266) and Mike Rosario (187) have made a combined 453 3-pointers in their careers. To put that into perspective, UW's active leader in made triples is Ben Brust... with 62.
The good news is, Wisconsin ranked second in all of the NCAA in fewest 3-pointers allowed a year ago, surrendering just 3.6 per game and allowing opponents to made just 29 percent (11th in the country). In fact, only once did a UW opponent make at least nine 3-pointers in a game last season, and that was Iowa with 10.
Putting up a fence along the perimeter is pivotal vs. the Gators.
Two of the best BIG shooters
A one-on-one match-up to keep an eye on in this game is the battle between Florida's 6-foot-10 forward Erik Murphy and the Badgers' 6-foot-10 forward Jared Berggren. What you'll be watching is two of the best big-man shooters in all of college basketball.
Among players 6-foot-10 or taller, Murphy and Berggren finished first and third, respectively in made 3-pointers last season. Murphy knocked down 59-of-140 shots from downtown and Berggren connected on 42-of-121.
Tempo, tempo, tempo
Wednesday night's game figures to be a baptism by fire for Wisconsin's young backcourt. Florida is a team conditioned on pressure defense and forcing turnovers. And after seeing the cramped nature of the O'Connell Center (the O-Dome), I can understand why. The sidelines are so close to the court, they feel like extra defenders.
The Gators - who forced 19 turnovers in their season opener - forced 10 or more turnovers in 29 of their 37 games a year ago. In recent memory, protecting the ball has been a major strength of the Wisconsin program. In fact, over the last three seasons, the Badgers have finished No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game.
But that was the Jordan Taylor era.
Now, redshirt freshman George Marshall and sophomore Treavon Jackson are thrust into the spotlight, and into the blender. How the young guys handle it will be of great interest.
When thinking about the tempo of this game, think about UW's game at North Carolina early in the season a year ago. The Tarheels wanted to play fast and loose and turn it into a high-possession game (at least 140 total possessions). Florida will have similar ambitions.
In Chapel Hill, the Badgers dictated the tempo and kept the game to just 123 total possessions. That kept Wisconsin in it until the end, when UNC pulled out the 60-57 win.
Look for a similar recipe in Gainesville if the Badgers are going to pull off the early-season upset.
The Badgers did end up getting a private meet-and-greet with the president before Obama addressed a crowd on campus.
While connections from freshman George Marshall sealed the deal to meet Obama, Bohannon's full-court press via Twitter got the ball rolling. Here is a sampling of some of Bohannon's nearly 100 Tweets aimed at Obama and his staff.
@barackobama, Sir, the Wisconsin bball team extends an offer 2 play open gym on Thursday before or after ur talk. Badgers RETWEET 4 support!-- Zach Bohannon (@ZBohannon) October 3, 2012
UWBadgers.com writer Mike Lucas took a whack at putting together what a Badgers 'Dream Team' would look like from the Bo Ryan era (2001-2012, current players excluded). His task was to come up with a 12-man "team," not necessarily the best 12 players from the last decade.
Here is what he came up with. Who would you pick?
Taylor, who earned his degree from UW in May, told the Wisconsin State Journal that he sees this move to Italy as a stepping stone to his ultimate goal of reaching the NBA.
"I'm looking forward to it," Taylor said. "It's a new experience. All I can do is keep working and keep trying to reach my goals and make some money in the meantime. I'm definitely not giving up on trying to get to the NBA."
Taylor hopes to join a long list of Virtus Roma alumni that have seen NBA duty, including George Gervin, Michael Cooper, Anthony Parker, Dino Radja, Brian Shaw, Rick Mahorn and Danny Ferry among others. Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings spent the 2008-09 season playing for Virtus Roma prior to being drafted by the Bucks.
In spirit alone, Eaves was speaking to "all of the above'' upon returning to his Kohl Center office Monday following his annual summer pilgrimage to Montana. While he was vacationing, two of his former pupils - Parise and Suter - scored huge NHL free agent contracts. Eaves coached Parise and Suter, who skated one season at Wisconsin before turning pro with the Nashville Predators, to gold medals in the World Under-18 Championships in 2002 and the World Junior Championship in 2004.
"I guess that I was a little surprised that they both went to the same team,'' said Eaves, a member of the Minnesota North Stars during his NHL playing days in the early '80s. "There was a little bit of a rumor about that (happening) but there were a lot of teams that had their foot in the door and really wanted them. I think it's great for Minnesota. They (the Wild) are now starting to put some fundamental pieces together and getting closer to being a championship team.''
Reflecting on Suter's growth, Eaves cited his comfort level on the ice and said "It was like, 'This is what he was meant to do.' It's like when you watch someone and right away you're drawn to him because they have this special presence. It's their control, their skill, their ability. It's like watching Celine Dion on stage. They talk about having a stage presence. Ryan Suter has this ice presence, if you will.''
The special players share many of the same defining characteristics, Eaves added. That would include another notable free agent defenseman with an "ice presence'' - Justin Schultz, who skipped his final year of eligibility at Wisconsin and recently signed with the Edmonton Oilers. "It's a young team and he can grow up with them,'' Eaves said. "He's going to have a chance to play right away.''
It has been a busy and profitable off-season free agent market for former UW players. Adam Burish has been reunited with his old teammate and roommate, Joe Pavelski, with the San Jose Sharks. Burish signed a four-year, $7.2 million deal. "He's a piece of the puzzle that people recognize they need to have,'' Eaves said. "He's a winner. You need that type of person to accept his role and excel in it.''
So what has been Wisconsin's role in grooming so many NHL-ready players?
"People ask about that, 'What are you doing (right) there?''' Eaves said. "First of all, we've gotten top-notch young men and they have a lot of things that we don't teach. Secondly, the coaches we've had here are good teachers and played at that (pro) level and can give them insight. And we have a total program with the things we do off-ice with the strength coaches that we've had like Jim Snider.
"There are some real good things here that are being combined with their natural abilities. There are about four or five programs that have quite a few of their former players in the NHL. And we're one of them, so it does get noticed ... our formula or ideal to win at this level is about excellence. The Navy Seals have a great saying, 'The way you do anything is the way you do everything.'''
That quest for excellence extends to all corners of a successful hockey program and beyond. That quest drives Eaves, too, particularly coming off a season in which the Badgers failed to make the NCAA tournament. "We didn't get in, because we ran out of games,'' he said. "At the end of the year, we could beat anybody and nobody wanted to play us because we were coming into our own.''
Youth was served. Growing pains were plentiful. But Eaves is confident that the returning core of players learned their lessons and benefited from the orientation, however rude at times. "We knew that we were going to be young,'' Eaves said. "Then you get on the ice and you go, 'Whoa.' That's when reality hits ... (but) we started something at the end of the year and morphed into a team that believed.
"We're moving in the right direction.''
One of the highlights of the upcoming season will be Wisconsin's appearance in the Hockey City Classic that will be staged Feb. 17 at Chicago's Soldier Field. The Badgers will play Minnesota in one half of the doubleheader with Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) matching up in the other game.
"It's an emotional energizer,'' Eaves said Monday.
Especially for two of his players who are Chicago-area products.
Frankie Simonelli is from Bensenville and Michael Mersch is from Park Ridge.
"I'm sure they're already talking to their teammates about getting extra tickets,'' Eaves said.
This will mark the third time that the Badgers have taken part in an outdoor game.
"People ask me all the time, 'Why are you doing that?''' Eaves said. "We have one of the longest seasons in college athletics. At that time of year - kind of the dog days of February - we get to do something that is unique and special to bring the energy back into the season.''
That energy manifests itself whenever Eaves looks out his office window at the adjacent La Bahn Arena, which will house a practice facility for the men's program and serve as home ice for the Badger women. The project has many other amenities, like new locker rooms.
"There's nothing like it in the country,'' he said proudly.
Jumping out of his chair, Eaves all but pressed his nose against the glass.
"From the very first day (of the construction), we've found ourselves doing this in the morning; just watching like a little kid might,'' he said. "Wait 'til you walk into that arena. You'll go, 'Wow. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?' This is the final jewel in the crown that we call this hockey program.''
"One of the greatest moments of my life," he said.
There was Ahmed's run in the 10,000 meters at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational that easily met the Olympic "A" qualifying standard and broke the school record by nearly 30 seconds.
"A lot of pressure was relieved from my shoulders," he said.
There was Ahmed's win in the 5000 at the Big Ten outdoor championships that was a meet record and one of two first-place medals UW captured in winning its first crown since 2007.
"The way we came together was true teamwork," he said.
And there was Ahmed's seventh-place finish in the 5K at the NCAA outdoor meet that validated his All-America status a second time despite limited training because of an Achilles injury.
"I wasn't happy with the way I finished, but running is a great metaphor for life," he said.
In other words, you take the good with the very good -- or the exceptional -- in Ahmed's case. Given his list of individual and team accomplishments, what would rank at the top of his list?
"Winning nationals as a team, that's number one," he said. "Cross country was a magical year. The title will be something I'll cherish for the rest of my life. It was a beautiful moment."
Beautiful, he said, because of the chemistry with Elliot Krause, Ryan Collins, Reed Connor and Maverick Darling. Beautiful because it rewarded coach Mick Byrne with a much-deserved title.
It was also beautiful, he said, because of what it told him about his running skills. "Finishing fifth told me that I belonged at the top of the NCAA," Ahmed said. "That helped me a lot."
Ahmed spent the indoor season "training very hard with the focus on going to the Olympics -- and with my first race (the Payton Jordan) I got that out of the way."
That's where the confidence gained from his success competing during the cross country season really kicked in -- in what was, at the time in late April, the fastest 10,000 meters race in the world.
"I thought to myself, 'If you can race with the guys in the NCAA, you can keep up with them, why not here?"' he said, convincing himself that "I can definitely do it."
That confidence carried over to the outdoor season and the Big Ten meet in front of the home fans. "Everyone was doing it for the seniors," said Ahmed, a junior from St. Catharines, Ontario.
Few, he noted, will ever forget senior Kyle Jefferson's true grit during his leg of the 4x400 relay.
"The amount of toughness that he displayed is going to be his legacy," Ahmed said, "and something we talk about every time we see each other or at team reunions.
"It didn't take one person to win the Big Ten title. It took everybody. It took throwers, distance guys, sprinters. Everybody came together. It was a great feeling."
Despite dealing with his Achilles injury, Ahmed is feeling much better in advance of Sunday's departure for Calgary and the Canadian Olympic Trials. He will race Wednesday in the 10,000 meters.
Ahmed is one of two runners who met the "A" qualifying standard. The other, Cameron Levins, who won the Payton Jordan event and claimed two NCAA titles, will compete in only the 5000, though he will double at the Olympics.
"Physically, I'm at a good spot; I'm not burned out yet, I still feel fresh," Ahmed said. "It's all mental now. And I'm going to treat this race just like it was any other race.
"I've learned that you've got to use the nervousness to your advantage. It's good energy if you use it to get ready. I'm not putting this race on a pedestal just because it's the Olympic trials."
Ahmed is looking forward to running for Canada in London.
In a sense, the truest sense, he said, he would be also running for the Badgers.
"Being a Wisconsin Badger," he said, "whether it's my identity on the track as a runner or that of a student, is something that is going to be a part of me forever and ever."
Pictured are Isaiah Festa, Matt Tegenkamp, Josh Spiker and Nick Winkel following the 5,000 meters, the second-to-last track event on the final day of the meet. Because the Badgers trailed first-place Minnesota by 24 points going into the 5K, they almost didn't get a chance to run the race; the story within the story.
"It was very memorable," Nuttycombe said.
It was one of his most memorable Big Ten titles, he confided.
That covers a lot of ground (28 years) and championships (24).
But the final round didn't start out very memorable in the 2002 meet.
The Badgers had an early lead in the 400 relay but had to settle for third after a botched exchange. In the very next event - the 1,500 meters - Spiker was running third behind Michigan's Alan Webb and Indiana's John Jefferson when he stumbled and fell about 30 meters from the finish line. He ended up seventh.
Given this backdrop, Wisconsin looked like a long shot to catch the Gophers, although the Badgers had shown their resiliency the year before. In the 2001 Big Ten outdoor meet in Bloomington, Ind., they rallied past Ohio State, 135-117.5, for the team crown despite winning just two individual titles.
T.J. Nelson won the 110-meter hurdles and automatically qualified for nationals by running the third fastest time (13.49 seconds) in the country, while Festa outdistanced Ohio State's Rob Myers down the stretch to win the 1,500 meters. Festa also took a second and Jason Vanderhoof a third in the 5,000.
Clinching the overall title - the UW's fifth outdoors in seven years - on the strength of Festa and Vanderhoof combining for 14 points in a clutch situation, Nuttycombe said afterward, "Our 5,000- meter guys ran with a lot of heart."
Remember those words because they would resonate again in the very same event at the 2002 Big Ten meet on the McClimon Track; the last time that the UW played host to the outdoor track and field championships in Madison.
All the Badgers needed was a spark, according to Nuttycombe, to help reverse the momentum generated by Minnesota, which had been the only league program outside of Wisconsin to win outdoor titles since 1995. (The Badgers, in fact, were trying to pull off their second three-peat over an eight-year span.)
In order to put some pressure on the Gophers, the 1998 and 1999 team champion, someone had to "step up" and that's exactly what happened with Jon Mungen winning the 110 high hurdles and B.J. Tucker taking second in the 100. Len Herring also produced some valuable points with a second in the triple jump.
The real catalyst, though, was freshman Dan Murray who came out of the pack - fourth place - over the final 200 meters to win the 800. Murray not only set a track record (1:48.2), but posted a provisional NCAA qualifying mark. In the process, he seemed to inspire his teammates.
But the math still didn't add up.
Minnesota had the team lead - 135-110.5 - over Wisconsin.
Going into the 5,000-meters, Nuttycombe admitted, "We considered pulling some of the better guys out of the race to save their legs for nationals. We didn't want to extend them if there was no need to, and we told them that."
Nuttycombe and Jerry Schumacher, then the cross country and distance coach, merely attempted to paint a realistic picture for their 5K racers.
"After we told them what we were considering," Nuttycombe said, "they go, 'No way. We're not going to let you do that.'"
What followed was another reality check from Nuttycombe.
"Guys, we've got to do almost the impossible (to catch Minnesota)."
They responded by asking, "What do we need to do?"
"We need to go one, two, three, four in the 5,000."
"Coach, we're going to do it."
Festa and Tegenkamp went out and finished one-two in the 5,000, while Spiker was fourth and Winkel was fifth. That was close enough to fulfilling Nuttycombe's challenge, and good enough to pick up 27 points in the event.
Then it came down to the final event, the 4 x 400-meter relay. Minnesota was the top seed and Nuttycombe instructed his runners, "If you can't win, you can't allow more than one team between us and them (the Gophs)."
Actually, the Badgers could have finished lower than third and still won the meet but Nuttycombe was determined to pull out all stops in motivating his relay team: Jvontai Hanserd, Ricardo Rodriguez, Gustin Smith and Jabari Pride.
"We chased Minnesota around the track," Nuttycombe recounted fondly.
The Badgers finished second in the relay, and won the outdoor title.
"It was very memorable, not only for winning," Nuttycombe said.
But it was memorable, he observed, for not throwing in the towel on the 5,000 meters; memorable for not underestimating Festa, Tegenkamp, Spiker and Winkel; memorable for not denying them an opportunity to race.
Nuttycombe is reminded of that moment every day. "There's that picture right on my desk - one of my favorite pictures - of those four guys with their arms around each other right after the finish," he said. "That was awesome."
A 10-year anniversary worth celebrating this weekend in Madison.
Bohannon, who redshirted in 2011-12 after transferring to Wisconsin from Air Force, was unable to travel with the team due to NCAA transfer rules. Instead he holed up in the UW men's basketball office at the Kohl Center and watched the season come to an end just like the rest of us.
However, unlike the rest of us, Zach's therapy to deal with the loss was to write about it. This is what he sent me.
The Longest 15 Seconds of My Life
By Zach Bohannon
Just over 15 seconds remained on the clock...
Wisconsin just got the ball back, down 63-64, and it was in none other than Jordan Taylor's hands. As I sat watching the game from the basketball offices back at the Kohl Center, I could not help but think about what a picturesque scene this truly was. Wisconsin was in the Sweet 16, playing against a team that was ranked #1 in the nation for a good majority of the year and we had the final shot to win it. Coach Ryan, who strategically chose not to use his final timeout after we regained possession, more importantly trusted that Jordan would be able to make a play and send us into the next round. Who better would you want with the ball in that situation anyways?
Less than 13 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan dribbled the ball up across the half court line and the top two defenders in Syracuse's ferocious 2-3 zone defense played a game of cat and mouse with him. Wisconsin had the play "Horns" called, which is two high ball screens at each side of the lane. This action was made famous by two-time NBA champion coach Chuck Daly, who coined the term in the 1980's. The play was exploited by Syracuse due to their great length and athleticism. However, Jordan tried to make a play anyways, something that Wisconsin fans saw countless times throughout his stellar career, but nothing was there. He retreat dribbled back to half court, a maneuver that has been drilled into his head religiously the past four seasons by Coach Ryan when you are under pressure. Time was running out and Jordan knew it, but still somehow kept his cool.
Less than 10 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan took a look up at the clock and saw it was now or never to make something happen. He dialed in and dribbled right back at the two Syracuse guards, putting both of them on their heels. He drew a double team and whipped a right-handed pass around the left side of the top defender. The pass landed in Jordan's senior teammate hands of Rob Wilson. This was typical Jordan, knowing when to give up the ball when he had to. He became famous for this throughout his marvelous career as well, while along the way, shattering the NCAA's assist to turnover record. This was the action that made Jordan such a great player at Wisconsin, he knew when to take over a game but more importantly, he knew when it was time to make his teammates better. This was one of those.
Less than 7 seconds remained on the clock...
As the ball bounced to the floor and Rob caught a perfect pass from Jordan, he as well was immediately double teamed. Rob tried to pump fake to shake one of the defenders off of him, but it was to no avail. He was in a similar situation as Jordan was just in and knew nothing was there, so he kicked it back out to the point guard.
Less than 5 seconds remained on the clock...
Jordan received the bounce pass and took one right handed dribble in order to gather some momentum to get up a decent look from three. He found an opening and it was a miracle that he even got up a decent look. The infinitesimal gap he found to shoot was closed with not one, but two Syracuse defenders. However, Jordan still got the shot off cleanly with 3.3 seconds left, a smart play because he gave our team just enough time to have an opportunity for an offensive rebound and a put back to win. No one was thinking about that at the time though. As the shot was released, for that one second the ball was in the air, the world stopped spinning and everyone was focused on the spinning orange leather globe. Everyone was on their feet praying for two different outcomes. As I use to say when I was younger, the "good guys" (Badgers) were praying for only one more basket. The "bad guys" (Syracuse) were praying for one final miss. With exactly two seconds left, the shot fell inches short. But the season was not quite over yet.
Less than 2 seconds remained on the clock...
The one Badger who always found a way to get his hands in on the action throughout the year, found a way to do it again. Mike Bruesewitz "bruised" his way to another rebound and tapped it just enough to keep it alive, a play he had done countless times as well in the season. The ball was knocked to the floor with exactly one and a half seconds left and it was found in the hands of Josh Gasser, a player who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, had done it once again. Realizing that time was about to expire, he threw up a desperation one handed fade away shot as the horn sounded and it hit nothing. Nothing, but air.
No time remained on the clock...
The game was officially over. The scoreboard's red light was on, no more time was left, no fouls had been called, and nothing was reviewable. The final 15 seconds of Wisconsin's year had come to a halt, but more sadly, we witnessed the final game of two more great Badgers, Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson. These excellent ambassadors of not only the basketball program, but of the University of Wisconsin as a whole, just like that had both finished up their careers in this last play. Rob immediately bent down and put his hands on his knees, while Jordan put his jersey over his face. It was all over. The "good guys" did not win. Jordan and Rob did not get their one shining moment like they had dreamed of since they were little kids shooting hoops in their backyard and on the playground. Both of their four year college windows were over. In a blink of an eye, their careers were done.
The clock is ticking...
That is the magical thing about sports. The "good guys" do not always come out on top, even if they played their best and up to their potential. It is a mysterious phenomenon to grasp; that is, hard work does not always lead to success. One works his entire life to have that one golden opportunity, but it still sometimes is not enough. Through all of this however, we are forgetting to mention the hundreds of thousands of seconds that led to those final 15 seconds of their careers. Years down the road, this play will be meaningless. Sure we will remember that Wisconsin lost to Syracuse in the Sweet 16, but more importantly, we will remember the great lessons that these two fine seniors had shown throughout their careers.
Let's start with Rob. I do not think you can come up with a better word for his career than perseverance. Rob exhibited this trait throughout his career, and I am not only talking about on the court, but in the classroom as well. Rob is going to be the first college graduate in his family when he gets his degree this May. He overcame that great barrier, which should be applauded on its own. However, Rob did even more. On the court, Rob struggled throughout his career to get consistent minutes. His career was a roller coaster, with many highs and lows. His senior season in particular, he played sporadic minutes up until the second half of the Big Ten season, until finally he had taken advantage of his opportunity. The great thing that the average fan did not see was the hard work and commitment he showed through the tough times. Rob never pouted or got upset for a long period of time, he would be mad initially, but he moved on. He just prayed for one more opportunity to show what he really could do and what he believed in himself to be able to do. He persevered until finally he solidified his minutes and had a huge role on the team. To the average fan, Rob came out of nowhere and scored 30 points, along with tying a Wisconsin record of 7 three's, in a big win over Indiana in the conference tournament. However, the average fan did not see the thousands of shots and extra sessions in the gym through his difficult times. In regards to his final play, just the fact that Rob was in the game and in a position to make a play against #1 seeded Syracuse was a feat by itself, but showed how much he grew as a person throughout his career. He kept getting better and his hard work was rewarded. In the end, his perseverance paid off.
Now time to talk about Jordan. The one obvious word that defines his career and who he was is leader. As Coach Ryan often jokes, Jordan could possibly be "the future Governor." That's a pretty strong statement coming from your head coach, but I honestly think that is an understatement on just quite how great of a leader he truly is. His leadership skills put him second to none and could easily make him the President if he wanted to! Jordan will be one of the greatest leaders to come out of the University of Wisconsin, ever. He is that great with people, but that is not what makes him special. It is his ability to get people to not only listen to him, but to follow him as well. A lot of people, including most sports writers, said that the year that Jordan had this year was a "down year" compared to what he accomplished last year and he was no longer "a top five point guard in the country." That kind of statement is just mind boggling. He went from a Sweet 16 team, losing three starters, including one to the NBA, came back the following year as a senior, with a bunch of "no names", and accomplished the same, if not more. He turned these "no names" to household names in the mere matter of months. He led the team to not only a point away from an Elite Eight game, but he won a game in the conference tournament, something Wisconsin had not done the previous three years, and he was only one game out of the conference title race. Not bad for a senior point guard that's team was predicted to finish 7th in the Big Ten this year. He single handedly willed his team this year from start to finish, and took more burdens on himself than any single person deserves. But that's what leaders do, they take the blame when the going gets rough, and praises their teammates when their on a high. That's what Jordan did, time and time again throughout the year. It was an honor to be in his locker room and on the court, along with Rob, this season.
As I sat down to write this the morning after the game, coincidentally the basketball team was just landing in Madison and coming back from Boston. I could not help but think of the greater implications of the picturesque scene that they came back to. Jordan and Rob had started their next stage of their lives, the ending of one thing led to the beginning of another for them. However, someone, somewhere decided to still mourn. The day was overcast with a slight rain that happened throughout the day. We never did see the sun that day, the big orange thing, a metaphor for the mascot of Syracuse, was off hiding. They knew that the career of two great young men had just come to a close. They did not want to be anywhere near Madison, and someone greater than us all decided to mourn as well.
As a sports fan, eventually you will forget about great games, great plays or even great players. However, the one thing you will not forget will be the players who touched your life emotionally, either directly or indirectly. If each one of us could take these lessons and learn from them like we did from these two great seniors, think about how better off we would be. I hope that each one of you prepare for your "one shining moment" with every ounce of energy you have. Don't ever give up on that vision either, because the struggle will be worth it. Now what are you waiting for?! Your time is limited, and the clock is ticking...