March 18, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
CHICAGO -- There was the expected disappointment after falling short of a goal, a Big Ten title. But it was short-lived.
Jared Berggren and Ben Brust spoke in stereo when Berggren stressed that the Badgers had to “turn the page’’ after losing here Sunday to Ohio State in the conference title game and Brust echoed the sentiment. “We have to focus on what’s next,’’ he said.
The big picture crystallized for the Badgers about an hour later in a banquet room on the second level of the United Center. That’s where the players and the coaches viewed the NCAA tournament Selection Show and learned that Mississippi, the freshly-minted SEC tourney champ, would be their opponent Friday in Kansas City. A CBS crew shared the room and their reaction to the draw.
Flanking UW coach Bo Ryan, who was holding one of his granddaughters in his lap, were Dan Fahey, Brust and Zak Showalter to Ryan’s immediate left and Mike Bruesewitz, J.D. Wise and Berggren to his right. The players filled out a couple of rows of chairs in front of two flat screen televisions.
All smiled for the camera without prompting.
“There’s a special feeling inside,’’ Brust said excitedly, “when you hear your school’s name called because you know you’re playing in the greatest tournament around.’’
• • • •
The postgame reaction in the Wisconsin locker room was understandably subdued even though the Badgers had gone toe-to-toe and sneaker-to-sneaker with three heavyweights -- three top-10 teams in as many days -- and had finished on the left hand side twice. Still, they wanted more.
“Luckily we have another chance,’’ said point guard Traevon Jackson. “You have a sour taste in your mouth coming off a championship game when you lose. I really wanted it for the seniors. We’re going to sulk a little bit tonight, but tomorrow we have to be ready for our next opponent.’’
At the time, he didn’t know that it would be Ole Miss. Nor did he care.
“I’m just looking forward to playing again,’’ he said softly, “regardless.’’
Wisconsin and Ohio State staged their normal tug-of-war; a low-possession grinder between two tough-minded teams. Two cold spells were costly. After taking a 24-17 lead, the Badgers went 3:20 without points at the end of the first half, and they didn’t score a basket over the last 7:03 of regulation.
Despite missing 15 of 16 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, the Buckeyes had a significant advantage in offensive rebounds (12-5) and second-chance points (13-4). Plus, they made it tough on UW’s senior frontline at the other end. Berggren, Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans were a combined 6-of-23.
“They’re big guys are pretty physical and they made us catch it off the block,’’ Berggren said. “As soon as you try to make a move to get into better position, they’re raking down with their guards. They have some very good defensive guards and they were making it tough to operate in there.’’
There were no surprises between the Badgers and Buckeyes. “You play these same teams all year,’’ Brust said, “and they know everything you’re going to do, and you know everything they’re going to do just because you’ve seen so much tape on them and played so many minutes against them.’’
While looking ahead to a fresh opponent, Berggren also pointed out, “When we have a chance to step back and look at the weekend as a whole (in Chicago), there are a lot of positives that we can take into the NCAA tournament. We showed what we’re capable of doing.’’
Indeed, the Badgers knocked off Indiana, a No. 1 seed in the East, and Michigan, a No. 4 in the South. “It just shows that we’re capable of beating anyone in a tournament setting when we’re playing our best basketball,’’ Berggren reiterated. “Now, it’s one-and-down from here on out.’’
This is a UW program that has embraced that reality on a regular basis in March. “We have experience, we’ve done this before,’’ said Brust. “We lost a bad game last year to Michigan State (in the Big Ten tourney) and turned it around (into a second-consecutive Sweet 16 run).
“We’re going to do our best to turn it around again,’’ he went on. “From game one against Penn State to this last game against Ohio State, we’ve grown so much and learned so much as a team; we have to use it to our advantage. I think this team is capable of making a big run.’’
• • • •
Josh Gasser sat quietly in one corner of the locker room. His season ended before it started with a knee injury. “This is real bittersweet today, much more sweet than bitter,’’ he said Sunday. “But I just want to win a Big Ten title so badly. We have 16 other guys in this room who want it as badly as I do.’’
Knowing that he has two more years of eligibility remaining to chase that prize -- “It’s motivating me to get back as healthy as I can’’ -- Gasser is focused on what’s important now for the Badgers. “We just have to know that it’s a new season; it’s 0-0 and it’s anyone’s game,’’ he said.
Nothing can be taken for granted, he added.
“It’s a different game now because you’re playing for your life, there’s no tomorrow, if you lose, that’s it,’’ he said. “You still have to play your game and do what you’ve been doing all year long. The difference is that you’re playing against teams from different conferences.’’
Maybe that’s the best news of all, he suggested.
“The Big Ten season is so grueling,’’ Gasser said. “Every team is physical, every team is so good. But it prepares you for what’s to come in the NCAA tournament. We did better than handle our own all year long in the Big Ten and we’re definitely ready to go.’’
Like his teammates, he had already turned the page.