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The Voice: Season ends quickly but leaves lasting memories

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIt happens every season, but it remains a jolt. Unless a team goes the distance, the basketball season ends suddenly. A player is in the routine of practices, scouting reports, road trips and all the rest. This time of year is especially hectic. The road trips are longer. The stage is bigger. The lights are brighter.

Then it is over. No more practices. No more scouting reports. No more road trips.

Even for someone who just announces games, it is a jolt. As someone who has seen more practices than I can count, at times it can seem like Groundhog Day. Then I miss it. Imagine how a player feels.

There are years when a team's final game is ugly, when you know that group simply did not have it. Sometimes a team loses because it runs out of gas. This Wisconsin team appeared to have plenty in the tank. It just ran out of time. At least this year's Badgers know they went down swinging against talent-rich Syracuse. One could argue that last Thursday's Sweet 16 game in Boston was the best game of the tournament so far.

For that reason, I left TD Garden feeling both good and lousy for the players, coaches and support staff. Good because the Badgers did nearly everything right. Sure, they could have made a couple of more free throws, or finished another play or two near the basket. That happens with every team nearly every game. The Badgers proved to be the toughest of outs, and there is no shame in that.

I felt lousy because I thought they deserved better. Yeah, I am a touch biased. I wanted to see Jordan Taylor nail one more big shot. Then again, if his final attempt is just another quarter of an inch short, it is an airball, and Mike Bruesewitz is in position to recreate the ending of the NC State-Houston NCAA title game of 1983. If the final attempt is a hair longer, the ball caroms off the rim better, and Bruesewitz probably is still in good position for the board.

So it goes.

That is not how I choose to remember the season.

There are the obvious moments that can make Badger fans smile, such as the thrilling victory at Ohio State, Rob Wilson's 30 point outing against Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, and the NCAA tournament nail-biter with Vanderbilt.

All of that works fine, but for the last few days, I was thinking about other things. Such as the night before a road game in January. The team was on the bus, returning to the hotel after a practice. On the radio was the 1983 Lionel Ritchie hit "All Night Long," and the players were singing along.

Gotta love it when players less than half my age know a tune that was big when I was in college.

I think about the routine on the airplane before road trips. The radio crew, athletic communications director for basketball Patrick Herb and some others usually are on board before the team arrives. When the rest of the travel party boards the plane, assistant coach Gary Close always acknowledges everyone with "Gentlemen," and then he looks at me and says "Matt." OK, maybe you need to be there, but it is always good for a chuckle.

Then strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach will chime in with his usual wisecracks, leaving those within earshot laughing helplessly, and another trip officially begins.

Finally, I will think about those seemingly endless practices, and how I believe the Badgers have a chance to be pretty good again next year. George Marshall, Jarrod Uthoff and Zach Bohannon are players you have yet to see. My guess is you will like them.

Those three, plus the continued development of the other returning players and the additions of Zak Showalter and Sam Dekker, should make for quite the battle for minutes.

As for Taylor and Wilson, Bo Ryan put it best when he told the CBS crew that followed the team during the tournament, "They will be able to step away from here, once the sting of this eases up a little bit, they will realize what they have accomplished, and also how well they played for the name on the front of the jersey."

Perhaps that is the best memory of all. Their love of the game, and their love of the school they have represented so well. It was a pleasure watching them in a Wisconsin uniform.

Now, what time does practice start?
120324_MBB_Taylor_Jordan.jpgThis will serve as a final snapshot of Jordan Taylor in his Wisconsin game jersey:  Taylor politely answering all questions at his locker following Thursday's loss to Syracuse in an NCAA East Regional semifinal; Taylor dutifully staying true to his core beliefs despite the pain.

On Taylor's left is fellow senior Rob Wilson, who's looking inconsolable; his body very nearly curled up in the fetal position. On Taylor's right is junior Mike Bruesewitz, who's looking drawn and tired; his legs stretched out, his head back, his eyes vacant.

Taylor is first asked about the gamesmanship with Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine, a fifth-year senior. Taylor and Jardine were roommates at the Deron Williams elite guard basketball camp in Chicago over the summer. They attended the Chris Paul camp, too.

At the 10-minute mark of the second half, Jardine buried a 3-point shot to push the Orange into a 51-47 lead. A smiling Taylor brought the ball up and immediately answered Jardine with a 3-point hit -- one of his five triples, matching a season-high.

Acknowledging Jardine, and the competitiveness that exists between them, he said, "It's a very serious game. At the same time you've got to have some fun.

"Above everything else, I've had a ton of fun during my four years here. I wouldn't trade it for anything.''

Taylor was later told that UW coach Bo Ryan had praised him for his work in grooming Wisconsin's front line of Bruesewitz, Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. Their development has been instrumental to the growth of the Badgers throughout the season.

Given that Berggren and Evans, in particular, had seen so very little playing time last season -- Berggren averaged 6.9 minutes and Evans averaged 11.6 while serving as understudys to Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil -- how far had they come as a group?

"Really far,'' Taylor said. "It's kind of a tough question to answer, just because I feel like they had that in them -- they just had to come out and show it. I'm sure I had a small role in that. But I didn't put all the talent in Ryan and Jared and Mike.

"That's not me. That's them working on their games hard in the offseason. My job was to try and get them the ball and encourage them -- be a leader for them. I did a decent job with that but, obviously, came up a little bit short.

"I hope that I helped them a little bit this year and I hope that I helped them move forward for next year, because they're going to have a really good team.''

All things considered, if Taylor had been given the ball and one possession -- one shot to win or lose against Syracuse, one shot to either advance his team to the Elite Eight or go home if that shot missed -- would he have accepted that proposition beforehand?

"I was thinking about it before the game,'' Taylor said. "I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to one possession. I mean obviously that's easy to say now. I just had a weird feeling that it was going to come down to that.

"I feel like seven-out-of-10, eight-out-of-10 times, we're going to get a score there. It's just unfortunate we didn't.  Like I said earlier, hats off to Syracuse. They did a very good job of defending on that last possession. It was great defense.

"They did just enough to win.''

Berggren was presented the scenario: one shot to win or lose. Take it or leave it?

"Yeah, absolutely, I'd take it,'' he said. "To be in that kind of game back and forth -- they made runs, we made runs -- it's a lot of fun. That's what this tournament is all about. It's about guys playing with everything on the line and giving it all they have.

"To be down one (point) with the ball in our hands for one last possession, I never had a doubt; I believed to the very last second that we were going to win that game. To see the ball not go in at the end is heartbreaking.

"Until the final horn sounded and the ball didn't go in, I was still believing and hoping and praying and wishing that we'd be playing Saturday. But that's not the case.''

UW assistant coach Gary Close, who had put together the scouting report on Syracuse, felt that Badgers would have a chance to win the game if they made at least 10 3-point shots, had 10 or fewer turnovers, and had 10 or more offensive rebounds.

That was his formula: 10 + 10 + 10 = victory.

They finished with 14 3-point shots, six turnovers and eight offensive rebounds. "Maybe a couple of offensive rebounds would have gotten us one more bucket,'' he said.

So close, yet so ... painful.

"It was a one-point game in the Sweet 16 and we were one point short -- it's pretty tough to swallow,'' Bruesewitz summarized. "We did some good stuff. We made shots, played well as a team. It just wasn't enough, at least this time. We came up a little short.''

Sizing up the UW locker room, Close observed, "There's a lot of potential in here and they (the returning players) will get better. That's what this program is all about.''

From 1-3 in the Big Ten to one shot from the Elite Eight.

That's what this season was all about.

Lucas at Large: Badgers believe in bench

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Rob Wilson, Ben Brust and Frank Kaminsky will be watching and studying. They will be taking mental notes on everything that takes place on the floor between Wisconsin and Syracuse in the early minutes of Thursday night's Sweet 16 game of the NCAA tournament.

Icon-Vandy6_sm.jpgThey will each be paying attention to the individual matchups  and all of the little details that impact runs and momentum despite not knowing for sure when they will get the call from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to enter the game against the Orange.

Staying ready is part of the challenge for any player who comes off the bench. Through the second and third round games - the wins over Montana and Vanderbilt - Wilson, Brust and Kaminsky are averaging 25.5, 16.5 and 4.5 minutes, respectively.

"You know that you could be called on at any time so you prepare your mind mentally that you're always ready," said Wilson, a senior, who stunned Indiana in the Big Ten tournament with 30 points in 32 minutes. He has two starts in 116 career games.

"You can learn a lot by not being out there right away," Wilson said, "because you're able to see what they're doing and you can almost figure out what their game plan is before you actually get into the game and go against it."

You can get a feel, Wilson noted, from watching how players move without the basketball on offense or handle screens on defense. Against Syracuse, which features a signature 2-3 zone, he will see if there are tendencies, especially jumping passing lanes.

"I want to know which guy is playing aggressively in their zone," said Wilson, adding that the most distinguishing characteristic of the Orange defense is the length of the players which they use to their advantage by getting deflections and creating turnovers.

"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind - that they are a lot longer than you might expect. So you have to make a lot of ball fakes and be strong with the ball. If you turn it over, there might be a dunk at the other end. They feed off that."

Understanding and accepting a bench role is key. "Our bench has been important all season and we have to keep bringing the energy," said Wilson who had 10 points against Montana but none against Vandy. "Scoring is not the only way you can contribute."

On defense, Wilson helped chase John Jenkins, who was held well under his season scoring average. He also had a couple of timely rebounds and assists without turning over the ball. That will be critical against Syracuse's ball-hawking defense.

"We haven't really faced a lot of zone this year," conceded Brust, who faced many box-and-one defenses in high school because he was such a big-time scorer. "We've played a lot of different defenses this year and we have to use that knowledge in this game."

As the opening minutes are unfolding, Brust said, "There's definitely a learning curve because you have the time to watch (from the bench) and see what's working, and what's not working and what mistakes are being made."

Brust had 11 points and four rebounds against Vanderbilt. That was the most he had scored since Jan. 26 when he had 13 against Indiana. But who's counting?  "We have a balanced attack," he said. "Everybody can shoot, dribble, pass and defend."

Kaminsky, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out some things as a true freshman. Against Montana, he played only three minutes. "I was really nervous; it's my first tournament," he said, shrugging. "But I got rid of the nerves and now I'm ready to go."

While he's waiting for his turn, Kaminsky will try to get a feel for how Syracuse is handling Berggren and then put it to use when he's in the game. "If they're closing out too hard, then go to the rim," he said. "If they're playing off of him, then shoot it."

Getting up to game speed is more difficult. "You really have to be out there," Kaminsky said. "But you can pick up on the little things that can help you. Coach (Bo Ryan) is always telling us before the game to pay attention to what you can go in and do."

Syracuse's bench outscored Kansas State, 33-0. Dion Waiters, who's viewed in most circles as the top sixth man in college basketball, had a game-high 18 points while James Southerland chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds.

How will the Badgers counter-punch? Will it be Wilson? Brust? Will it be Wilson and Brust? Kaminsky has a reasonable expectation. "Even if I have to go in and give someone a break for a couple of minutes, that's fine," he said. "We have to do what we can do to win."

The Voice: Syracuse just latest challenge awaiting Badgers

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgIn honor of National Athletic Training Month month, a tip of the cap to the medical folks, including athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra and Dr. John Orwin, for helping Josh Gasser beat a nasty stomach virus last Saturday.  

Their efforts made it possible for the sophomore guard to help his team advance to the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16. Henry and Doc Orwin probably hate the fact I am mentioning their names, but you should know about their work.

They sit at the end of the bench, and fans might wonder who they are. Put it this way, without them last weekend, Gasser probably had no chance of playing.

The bug struck several members of the team's traveling party, including Gasser, freshman Jared Uthoff, a few cheerleaders, at least one administrator, and even some family members, including those of head coach Bo Ryan.

As someone pointed out earlier this week, on one hand it was amazing how many people were affected.  On the other hand, it is amazing more folks, especially the players, were able to dodge the bullet.

Ryan is never one to publically make a big deal out of an injury or an illness. You either can play or you cannot. Gasser is much the same way, as he downplayed what he dealt with. Without going into great detail, it did not sound pretty. Add to it the challenge of going against a hot Vanderbilt team, featuring perhaps the prettiest 3-point shooter in college basketball, and the odds appeared to be stacked against Wisconsin.

Maybe the Badgers just like it that way. This group might not always shoot straight, but nobody with a clue will ever question their heart. Nobody with a clue will ever question their toughness.  

Of course, Ryan ended up joking about it, saying Gasser was turning green in honor of St. Patrick's Day. No word yet whether the head coach will be appearing at a Boston area Chuckle Hut.

All kidding aside, there is no question that Ryan appreciated what Gasser went through, and the coach was proud of how his teammates helped pick him up. Very simply, that is how this team rolls, and perhaps more and more observers are taking notice.

Up next is a date with the region's No. 1 seed, Syracuse. While this will be their first matchup against each other, Ryan and Orange coach Jim Boeheim have known one another for years.  
In fact, on May 5, Boeheim is scheduled to be the special guest at the fifth-annual Coaches vs. Cancer Wisconsin Gala that Ryan and members of his "coaching tree" host to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

In that regard, Ryan and Boeheim are very much on the same team. Thursday will be a different story. While the Badgers successfully handled adversity last week, Syracuse has had its own well-documented obstacles. The latest is the loss of freshman big man Fab Melo, the Big East's defensive player of the year. Yet the 'Cuse keeps rolling along, winners of 33 games in 35 outings.

As tip time approaches, you will hear more and more about the Orange's famed 2-3 zone, as well as the squad's lack of rebounding.  

Don't be fooled about the latter.  What they might lack on the glass they more than make up for by forcing turnovers. On average, Syracuse has a turnover margin of plus-six. This is an aggressive zone with players who have, as Ryan would say, great length and bounce.

While the Badgers shoot plenty of 3s, it will be interesting to see how they attack it. Can they get the ball inside? Will they get decent looks from midrange?

Offensively, the Badgers had terrific balance Saturday, with five players scoring in double figures.  More of the same might be necessary against Syracuse, a balanced team in its own right whose second-leading scorer, Dion Waiters, comes off the bench.

Another game, another tough battle for the Badgers. To those surprised to see Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, perhaps they view it as a team playing with house money.  

As for the players themselves, they seem to a be a group determined to extend their season as long as possible. Already they have beaten Montana, Vanderbilt and the flu. Why stop now?

Lucas at Large: Badgers taking 'charge' during tournament run

Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor and Syracuse's Scoop Jardine crossed paths over the summer at both the Chris Paul and Deron Williams basketball camps.  At the latter - an elite guard camp in Chicago - Taylor and Jardine were roommates.

"He's a cool dude, we talked, we kicked it," Taylor said.

But did they talk in June about the possibility of crossing paths again in March at the NCAA tournament? "We really didn't talk about playing each other," Taylor said. "We talked about both of our teams, and I knew they were going to have a good team."

Taylor also knew the Badgers had a chance to be a good; maybe Sweet 16 good. Maybe they could get back to the level they reached last season - though neither Taylor, nor Jardine could have likely envisioned that they would be standing in each other's path or way.

Now that would have been a scoop, if they had. But that's the Sweet 16 matchup that has materialized in the East Regional at the TD Garden in Boston. Thursday night, it will be Wisconsin vs. Syracuse - and to a lesser degree - Taylor vs. Jardine.

"He's a lot like Jordan," UW coach Gary Close said of Jardine. "There are some similarities. He's not the scorer that Jordan is. But he's a great leader. He's tough, he's physical, and he makes good things happen around him.

"As a fifth-year senior, Jardine has been through the wars and won a lot of games. He's not afraid to take a tough shot - he's not afraid of anything, whether it's taking it (the ball) at somebody or guarding anybody. He's a tough kid."

Fearless might be a word to best describe Jardine. "I haven't watched Syracuse a ton this year," Taylor said. "But I know that he's extremely driven as a person. He's very goal-oriented and fearless is probably a good way to describe him.

"There isn't anything he doesn't think that he can do. I feel that's an East Coast thing (Jardine is from Philadelphia). You get that from a lot of those guys out there. I remember that in Sebastian Telfair and Carl Krauser. It's a cultural thing for their regions."

Maybe that best explains Bo Ryan's competitiveness. Wisconsin's 64-year-old head coach was raised just outside of Philly in Chester. And you will generally find his teams and best players, like Taylor, to be fearless, particularly when it comes to taking charges.

"Charges weren't as prevalent when I played," Ryan said of the early to mid-'60s. "What you would do is frustrate an offensive player and they would push off or run into you. I drew a lot of fouls that way because for some reason I got under people's skin.

"Can you imagine that?"     

Two "deads" and a charge.

What's the first thing that comes to mind?

"No fun," said Mike Bruesewitz. "Pain."

"Hard work," said Ryan Evans. "It means we're going to be working hard."

"It's just something we do," Bruesewitz added.

It's just something that Bo Ryan-coached teams do.

"This is my 19th year with Bo," said associate head coach Greg Gard, who also assisted Ryan at Milwaukee and UW-Platteville. "And we've done it every first day of practice."

Two "deads" and a charge.

It's more than just a zigzag basketball drill; it's a commitment.

"It's about our defensive principles," Bruesewitz said. "We try to pressure the ball a little bit, make sure we stay in front of our guy and try to take charges."

Where would the Badgers be without drawing those charges against Vanderbilt?

"Those charges won the game for us," Ryan said.

Not everyone sees it the same way, particularly when Wisconsin is involved.

"The talking heads talked about too many charges being taken," Ryan said with an incredulous look. "They want the offensive player to have more freedom of movement.

"Imagine that?"

There's definitely a method to the madness. "We're trying to get into people," Ryan said. "We're trying to get people to think twice or get them out of their comfort zone."

Wisconsin produced those results against Vandy and their top gun, John Jenkins, who was held to just 13 points on 3-of-13 shooting, 2-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc. Jenkins had been averaging 20 points and nearly four triples per game.

But he picked up a couple of fouls by attacking on offense in the first half and that appeared to take away some of his aggressiveness. Two of his teammates, Jeffery Taylor and Brad Tinsley, were also guilty of two fouls each as the Badgers took multiple charges.

"That was huge," Gard said. "It set the tone early that they were not going to be able to get to the rim. Sometimes it makes an offensive player gun-shy. They don't come as hard, they know if they go in there again, they may pick up their second or third foul."

Two "deads" and a charge.

"They'll get that drill the first day of practice on October 15," Gard promised. "We use one third of the court, the full length of the floor. It's one on one, offense versus defense. We put coaches at the one-third and two-thirds mark."

Two "deads" is short for two dead ball situations. "It's basically a zigzag drill," Gard said. "The offensive player has to make a pass to the coach and the defensive player jumps to the ball and we throw it back to the offensive player."

The drill forces the defender to slide his feet and take a charge. "We talk to them about the way to take it," Gard said, "by tucking your chin and not landing on your wrist. We teach the fundamentals of taking a charge so no one gets hurt."

The Badgers will use the drill periodically during the season as a reminder of the sacrifices that have to be made to be successful. "The best way to discourage guys from getting to the rim is by taking charges," Bruesewitz said. "It's a staple of what we do here."

There will be times when the players will take charges on mats in the weight room. "The biggest thing is the fear of the fall," Gard said. "You have to get through that. You have to have the gumption to step in there and take the hit knowing it's going to hurt."

But it's only going to hurt for awhile, he insisted.

"Once they get over that," Gard said, "they understand that it's required of them. A lot of high school players are expected to be on the floor for 32 minutes so they play a lot of matador defense, ole, and get out of the way rather than risking getting into foul trouble.

"If they want to play here, they figured out that they'd better take care of the defensive end of the floor and they'd better show that they have the courage to step in and take a charge. If they show they're shy at all, it sticks out pretty quickly.

"And we're quick to point that out."

Nobody takes a charge better than Bruesewitz. "It's pretty natural for Mike," Gard said. "You have to have a little Thespian in you, too. You have to be able to sell it at times. But you can't begin to fall before contact. The officials are good at picking that up."

Evans took two charges in the Vanderbilt win. "Charge taking was not in his vocabulary when he walked on campus here," Gard said. Evans didn't disagree. "We did a couple of charge drills in high school," he said. "But not as many as here."

Evans learned quickly that "it's definitely a way to get on the floor."

You can take that literally, too.

"We talk all the time that 90 percent of the game is playing on the floor," Gard said. "Everybody gets caught up in oohs and aahs of the lobs and dunks. That's 10 percent. Positioning, footwork, blocking out, rebound - a lot of that is done on the floor.

"How can you level the playing field? We do it different ways. Taking care of the ball is one way. Not giving up high percentage shots and taking charges are other ways. Maybe we're not as athletic in spots but we can even that out by not letting people jump over us."

He'd much rather they'd "run over us" as long as they wind up with the charge.

Imagine that?

Lucas at Large: Gassed Gasser overcomes flu bug in Badgers' win

Icon-Vandy11.jpgA 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."

Icon-Vandy8.jpgUW 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.

UW vs Indiana-0225_sm.jpgSince 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."

Field of 32: Tweeting 32 observations until tip-off

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Badgers have advanced to the 2012 NCAA Tournament Round of 32, and that means @BadgerMBB will send out 32 Tweets with observations and commentary leading up to the second round NCAA tournament game between No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 5 Vanderbilt.

Patrick Herb and Karl Anderson are in Albuquerque with the team. Check out the Field of 68 to see what you've missed.

32. How'd the #Badgers celebrate? Video games, watching hoops, study hour, dinner, haircuts & lots of sleep

31. #Badgers practice is underway at ThePit. Asst. Gary Close the teacher, Vandy the subject. http://say.ly/LjI1Av3

30. Katz asked JT if UW always needs to prove self. "We always get picked to lose 1st game but we win-Now have to take next step"

29. A teaser photo for the much-anticipated second episode of the Fahey Factor #Badgers http://twitpic.com/8x6b3f

28. Never one to be outdone, #Badgers @jmtaylor11 took his game to a national audience #mustseeTV http://twitpic.com/8x6cif

27. Vandy's Kevin Stallings, "Rob Wilson is a great weapon to have, a guy coming off bench who can change the game athletically."

26. Bo Ryan & Kevin Stallings haven't dueled as coaches. But Ryan was a #Badgers asst when Stallings played at Purdue ('80-82)

25. Michigan & Purdue are locked in tight #NCAA battles & where are the #Badgers? Huddled in front of a TV... Playing Mario Kart

24. Alvarez & Close huddled 'round computer watching future #Badgers star Zak Showalter put on a show! http://twitpic.com/8x90n2

23. "When u say St. Louis..." STL band playing famous #Badgers anthem. Majerus is a 'Sconnie after all. (via @MSU_Basketball)

22. Let the experts pick against Wisconsin today... But I don't think I'd bet against a Ryan on St. Patrick Day!

21. After the Round of 64, the high-flying #B1G Ten leads all conferences in scoring average at 75.2 ppg.

20. Finally got to the bottom of the allergy issues Coach Ryan and a few others are having... the Juniper is high here in ABQ

19. Scout report is on. Asst. Gary Close said he's watched @ least 15 Vandy games-some multiple times-including 1 from 2 yrs ago.

18. Hearing about Dekker's heroics reminds me of Jordan Taylor scoring 40+ en route to a state title in 2008. He turned out ok.

17. If 'On Wisconsin' from @BadgerBand at team send-off can't get you fired up, you don't bleed Red. http://say.ly/ypf1ARF

16. Police escort and all, the #Badgers are off to @TheLoboPit. Tip-off just 90 minutes away. http://say.ly/PTc1ARJ

15. Both teams staying at the Embassy Suites went 2-0 on Thursday, let's see if the #Badgers & #Buffaloes can make it 4-0 in ABQ

14. #Badgers and #Commodores meeting for the first time ever today, like @BadgerFootball, using a 1-0 mentality today

13. Both the #Badgers and Vanderbilt will use different locker rooms and benches today. Creatures of habit must adjust.

12. Lots of red in @TheLoboPit with both #Badgers & New Mexico fans sporting the Cardinal & White. Now who will they cheer for?

11. Tune in early (game tips at 5:10 CT). The next installment of NCAA Confidential with the #Badgers will air in pregame show.

10. Referees for today are Leslie Jones, Don Daily and Anthony Jordan. Jordan the only one who worked #Badgers 2nd round game

9. #Vanderbilt starters: G Brad Tinsley, G John Jenkins, F Lance Goulbourne, F Jeffery Taylor, C Festus Ezeli

8. #Badgers starters, the usual suspects: Taylor, Gasser, Evans, Bruesewitz and Berggren

7. Overheard in #Badgers locker room: Been a privilege to play 2 games @ The Pit. Cool sports venue. http://say.ly/zkx1ASr

6. Redshirt Jarrod Uthoff (stomach flu) is back at hotel watching on TV. That means Sharif Chambliss gets promoted to the bench.

5. Tight tunnel here at The Pit with 2 sets of flag groups. http://say.ly/CTQ1ASR

4. #Vanderbilt altering their lineup, Festus Ezeli no longer starting, replaced by Steve Tchiengang (coach's decision)

3. After being introduced out of order Thursday, the #Badgers have a script to follow today: Bru, Berg, Evans, Taylor then Gasser

2. Once again... Best seat in the house not reserved for a man in uniform. http://say.ly/ylG1AT0

1. Gameday Blog is live!!! http://bit.ly/u0HYdg

Lucas at Large: Badgers pass first test, but Vanderbilt awaits

6083474.jpegJared 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.

6083469.jpegGasser 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.


Lucas at Large: Searching for the next Jon Bryant

Ever hear about Jon Bryant?

"Never,'' Rob Wilson said. "Never heard of him. Who was that?''

Jon Bryant? Who was that?

"I know the name,'' said Josh Gasser. "Jon Bryant? Is he a coach?''

Not a coach, a player. Ever hear of him?

"Maybe,'' Ben Brust said. "Maybe if you tell me more about him.''

Played here.

"Played here at New Mexico?'' Brust asked.

Played at Wisconsin. But, yes, he did play here - at The Pit - in Albuquerque.

Seriously, doesn't anyone remember Jon Bryant?

"Yeah, of course,'' said Jordan Taylor.

Leave it to the senior captain.

Taylor, like Bryant, hails from the state of Minnesota.

"I worked out once with Jon Bryant when I was younger,'' Taylor said. "Some of my friends worked out with him a lot. To be honest, I don't know much about his history here.

"I know him more as a trainer in Minnesota.''

That would be the post-UW Jon Bryant, the founder of Triple Threat Elite Training.

"Jon Bryant,'' said video coordinator Sharif Chambliss, "was a great shooter for the Badgers. He was able to stretch the defense and knock down shots when they needed it.''

Never more so than during Wisconsin's 2000 run to the Final Four which culminated with wins over LSU and Purdue in the West Regional semifinals and finals at The Pit.

Bryant caught fire in the tournament starting with the Badgers' opening game when he went 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc in a 66-56 victory over Fresno State.

Bryant still shares the school record for most triples in a game with a host of others, including Taylor (vs. Indiana last year), Brust (vs. BYU and UNLV) and Wilson (vs. Indiana).

The Bryant flashback and history lesson is relevant to this team from the standpoint that the Badgers have multiple players capable of exploding offensively with 3-point hits.

You can add Gasser to the list. Twice, he's had four triples in a game.

UW assistant coach Lamont Paris admitted that he was unaware of Jon Bryant's legacy though he had heard of the name. But he knows the impact that a shooter can have.

"It happens all the time in March,'' Paris said. "It's about who's playing well and who's shooting the ball well. Look at VCU last year in the tournament.''

Virginia Commonwealth made its Final Four run on the strength of its 3-pointers. "That's what it came down to,'' Paris said. "They shot an astronomical percentage.''

In retrospect, did Wilson sneak up on the Hoosiers? Or can he do it again? Michigan State was obviously aware of his presence and threat and limited touches and good looks.

So how does he get space?

"Rob is a good athlete,'' Paris said. "He comes off screens hard and he has pretty good size for a guard so he has the ability to create some space for himself that way.

"Performances like that - the Indiana game - are what this time of the year is all about. Get a guy hot like that and you can ride him into a deep run in the tournament.''

That's why defenses are geared to stop guys like that. Consider: Wilson took only five shots and made two against the Spartans last Saturday in the Big Ten tournament.

"A couple of times they were face-guarding, Indiana didn't do that,'' Wilson said. "Michigan State is a great defensive team and they came in with a great game plan.

"They were switching a lot on the screens and bumping me as I was running off of screens.  I just have to read what they give me and what my teammates are doing.

"I have to make better reads and cuts to continue to get open. I have to take advantage of the opportunities that I do get.

"I'm still hoping to be a big factor and contributor off the bench here (against Montana). I have to play great defense and hopefully knock down a couple of shots.''

A couple of shots? What did it feel like to knock down seven against Indiana?

"It felt like the hoop was a lot bigger than it normally is,'' Wilson said.

Brust knows that feeling. Early in the season, he went 7-of-7 from beyond the arc against UNLV and 7-of-10 against BYU. Both teams are in the NCAA tournament.

Lately, though, Brust's playing time has dwindled. Despite accounting for only seven points in the last five games combined, he has remained upbeat.

"You just have to be ready at all times,'' Brust said. "If coach calls your name, and if the opportunity is there, you have to take advantage of it.''

Getting away from Big Ten defenses could help Brust.

"Maybe; maybe for everyone else on the floor, too,'' he said. "I think we're all excited to play against some new faces that we haven't seen before.''

March is the perfect setting for a breakout game for somebody.

"Anything can happen,'' Chambliss said. "That's why we're here.''

The last time the Badgers were here - at The Pit - Gasser was eight years old.

So you can understand why he would have no specific recollection of Jon Bryant.

"I do remember that (2000) team as a whole,'' Gasser said. "You don't really remember a lot of the individual players; that's why they were so good.

"You just remember how well that team played together. Obviously, there's some good karma in this arena, and hopefully we can continue it.''

After all, Bo Ryan emphasized, this is not about Jon Bryant and 2000.

"But this is our guys' time,'' Ryan said Wednesday. "Those 15 players that will be out there in red and white, this is their time ... this is their moment.''
ON WISCONSIN