Jan. 27, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- When the Wisconsin players arrived for their pregame meal – four hours before Saturday’s tipoff at Purdue – they discovered that something had been added to the menu: humble pie.
While they ate, they viewed the video of last season’s 69-56 loss to the Boilermakers at the Kohl Center. The Badgers missed their final 18 3-point shots, including all 12 attempts in the second half.
It was the first time under Bo Ryan that they had lost on Senior Day and it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth – which is why Ryan had the video playing – to remind them of how they felt.
“It was very important because we got to see them kind of embarrass us,” said junior guard Josh Gasser, who was helpless to do anything about it because he was still recovering from knee surgery.
“We got to see them (the Boilermakers) clapping to our crowd and what they were feeling after coming into someone else’s environment and getting a win; they were really hungry.
“We wanted to get that same feeling coming off three straight losses and coming into a tough road environment (Mackey Arena) and we wanted to make up for that loss last year.”
Ryan was under the weather and didn’t eat anything Saturday for fear of not being able to keep it down. But his players definitely ate up the pregame motivational tactic.
“They were trying to get a point across: learn from your mistakes and try to fix it,”’ said senior guard Ben Brust. “Some guys learn by doing things, some guys learn by seeing things. There’s a method to the madness with Coach (Ryan). I watched, I learned and I tried to apply it.”
The Badgers didn’t waste any time asserting themselves against the Boilermakers. On the strength of a 10-2 run – triggered in part by a couple of 3-pointers from Gasser – they jumped out to a 17-6 lead that boosted their confidence and supplied some much-needed early momentum.
“Getting the lead was big; we wanted to get off to a hot start,” said Gasser, mindful of the fact that the Badgers trailed from start to finish in an 81-68 loss at Minnesota. “At the same time, we knew one or two mistakes could get them back in the game and get their guys going.”
Even though Purdue managed to fight back into a 27-27 tie, the Badgers never lost control of the lead and extended a 32-29 halftime advantage to 41-31 with a 9-2 run over the first three minutes of the second half. Brust was the spark with five points during that span.
“We did a pretty good job of eliminating their crowd; they seemed to be pretty quiet,” Gasser said of the Mackey Arena faithful – 14,845 strong and loud – it’s usually one of the loudest venues in the Big Ten. “We answered the bell whenever we needed to and it really started on the defensive end.”
The result was a 72-58 win over the Boilermakers; only the fourth victory in 41 trips to 67-year-old Mackey Arena, a haunted house/venue for the Badgers up until recently. For the first time since 1914 – John Wooden was 4 – they have now won back-to-back games in West Lafayette.
The tone for Saturday’s win was set during Friday night’s practice on Keady Court (renamed in 1997 in honor of longtime head coach Gene Keady who won over 500 games). It was significant since the Badgers had not practiced on Thursday after an early morning arrival from Minnesota.
“I thought our legs and our lugs were pretty good,” Ryan said on the Monday Big Ten teleconference. “We moved pretty well. So I’m glad we took that day off on Thursday. I thought it helped us defensively.”
“We were able to get our legs underneath us a little bit and get our minds right,” Gasser said. “Before practice, we had talked in the huddles about bringing more energy. We needed to do more of the little things, especially on the defensive end. We needed to talk more.”
It was no secret that the Badgers were hemorrhaging on defense during their losing streak. “Like we’ve been saying, we’ve got to keep learning from our mistakes,” Brust said. “But there comes a point in time when you just can’t keep saying it. You have to go out there and perform.”
Wisconsin assistant coach Gary Close, who handled the scouting report for both the Gophers and the Boilermakers, felt like the scout team was much sharper on offense and offered far more resistance on defense to the starters and top reserves before the Purdue game.
“They had a great effort and they did make it difficult on the offensive end for the top group, which is what you want,” Close said. “As a coach, you like seeing that because you feel like you’re better prepared when a practice goes like that rather than having the other team rip through you.”
Evan Anderson, one of the scout team members, agreed that everyone upped their game competitively. “We knew that we had to be more physical,” he said, “and compete a lot more and give them better looks. We needed to try and emulate them (the Boilers) better.”
The Badgers expected a physical game from Purdue and the scout team obliged. Gasser left the court with a bloody nose. “I think it was from the ball,” Gasser said. “But it felt like Evan.”
The basketball actually did ricochet off the hands of Anderson, who has been known to inflict damage to his teammates with his size and strength. “I was hoping it was not too bad,” Anderson said.
It wasn’t. Gasser was fine. But maybe it was a precursor of things to come because Anderson took out his aggression against the Boilers and played a key role after Frank Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes both got into foul trouble. Anderson wound up playing seven minutes, one shy of his career high.
“Evan was just awesome,” Gasser said.
“Evan did great,” Brust said.
Midway through the first half, Anderson executed a perfect block-out on the defensive glass and Purdue’s A.J. Hammons was called for his third personal foul in his anxiety to make something happen. Hammons attacked the glass with the idea of getting a rebound but he couldn’t play through Anderson.
“I didn’t think he was going to go over my back because I had him blocked out pretty decently,” Anderson said. “But he did and they called it and it was a big play. I was just trying to play good defense, protect the paint and all of that. I wasn’t looking to do anything spectacular.”
Officially, he finished with a rebound, a blocked shot and two fouls. But the box score doesn’t tell the whole story. He also made a nice post feed to Sam Dekker who summarily drew a foul on a Purdue defender. Dekker shot a career-high 11 free throws. As a team, the Badgers were 27-of-33.
“A guy like Evan is so respected,” Gasser said. “Everyone on our team loves him – loves his attitude and what he brings to the team even if he’s not getting a lot of minutes. When he was doing good things for us (in the first half), it got our whole team amped up an extra level, it got us energized.”
On the five-hour bus ride from West Lafayette to Madison, the players watched the second half of Michigan’s win over Michigan State and a replay of Purdue game in its entirety, sans sound. The bus erupted, though, when Anderson sent Travis Carroll tumbling over the baseline. It was replayed several times.
“It was just nice to go out there and compete,” Anderson said, “against others players.”
Other than his teammates in practice.