"It will be two different styles and it will be interesting to see how they react to ours and to see how we react (to theirs)," Oregon coach Dana Altman said.
March 22, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MILWAUKEE -- The sign is the first thing that you see upon entering the Milwaukee Admirals locker room at the Bradley Center. It reads, “Champions are made from something they have deep down inside them -- a desire, a dream, a vision.”
The Admirals are a minor league hockey team, an affiliate of the Nashville Predators. The sign’s message has application to all of the college basketball teams that are still alive in the NCAA tournament, including Wisconsin, which has been assigned to the locker room.
“It’s true, sometimes a team that wants it more can get it,” said Josh Gasser. “Sometimes the ball is not going to drop and you have to do whatever it takes internally to get it done. We all have a dream that we want to accomplish. We have to go out and get it.”
The Badgers will attempt to take the next step in pursuit of their dream Saturday against Oregon, a team that has had a similar ebb and flow to its season as Wisconsin. The Ducks won their first 13. Lost eight of the next 10. Won nine of the last 10.
During a late season eight-game winning streak, Oregon won in double overtime at UCLA and beat Arizona State and Arizona in Eugene. All three are tournament teams, with the Arizona Wildcats being the Pac-12 champion and a No. 1 seed.
At Friday’s press conference, Oregon head coach Dana Altman compared the Badgers to the Wildcats from a style of play perspective, though in the same breath he confessed that he has never faced Wisconsin during his career.
“We’ve always pressed, we’ve always run,” said Altman, who previously coached 16 seasons at Creighton and four at Kansas State before taking over the Ducks. “Bo has always grinded it out, pick (screen) the heck out of you, put their hands all over you.”
Altman may have been “working” the officials well in advance of Saturday’s tip because his stereotyping of the “hands-on” Badgers fell short of the mark since they foul less -- 15 fouls per game on the average -- than anyone in college basketball.
“It’s a physical game,” Altman said with some conviction and anticipation. “He (Ryan) recruits to that. It will be two different styles and it will be interesting to see how they react to ours and to see how we react (to theirs).”
|“They’re trying to get you out of your comfort zone,” Gasser said of Loyd and the Ducks. “They’re trying to make you do things that you’re not comfortable with.”
Altman’s point guard, Johnathan Loyd, didn’t have a whole lot to say Friday during his formal on-stage interview session. But he twice mentioned that Oregon’s objective against the Badgers was to “try to speed them up.” What does that mean? Speeding them up?
“I think of pressure right away; a team that likes to play very aggressive and tries to get a lot of easy steals,” said Wisconsin’s Traevon Jackson. “For a point guard, it’s a great opportunity to get guys open and to break down the defense.
“We know what kind of pressure defense they play. They’re such a good offensive team, they want to get it and go on the offensive end. We just have to do what we usually do, take care of the ball and get good shots.
“Offensively, they remind me of a lot of teams -- sort of like an Iowa just because they’re so deep. They get up and down the floor really fast. They’re just really good.”
Gasser had his own take on what it means to “speed up” a team.
“They’re trying to get you out of your comfort zone,” he said. “They’re trying to make you do things that you’re not comfortable with -- that you don’t usually do. That’s what a lot of teams have tried to do to us this year. Iowa and Indiana are similar to them.
“They pick you up full-court most of the time. They like to get into you and be aggressive defensively and attack the rim on offense in transition. They’re definitely fast, they’re definitely long, they’re definitely athletic and they’re using it to their advantage.”
What’s the best advice that Gasser could give to freshman guard Bronson Koenig when he’s in the game and bringing the ball up the floor against Oregon’s pressure?
“Just be ready,” Gasser said. “He’s going to get dogged up and down the court the whole time. He can’t just catch the inbounds pass and turn and start dribbling. He’s going to have to be prepared to have a guy in his face at all times.
“They’ve got a quick, little point guard (the 5-foot-8, 163-pound Loyd) on their team that can cause some havoc. So he has to be ready for that.”
Koenig sounded ready. “Obviously, they’re going to pressure us full-court,” he said, “and they’re a really athletic, long team that would like to speed us up. They are someone who’s trying to make us play their tempo -- turn the ball over and stuff like that.”
Thanks to his prior training on the summer circuit, Koenig is no stranger to this style. “Just about every AAU team, it seems, plays that way,” he said. “They’d always put a man on me and I’d have to break that pressure every game. So I’m pretty used to it.”
The Ducks get considerable production from their bench. The reserves have accounted for nearly 1,000 points on the season and are averaging 29.8 per game. One of their top scorers has been Elgin Cook, a Milwaukee native. He had 23 against BYU.
“They can score in a lot of ways,” said UW assistant coach Gary Close, who handled the scouting report on the Ducks. “They’re putting up big numbers against everybody. They have a lot of weapons that makes them tough to guard.”
Oregon has scored at least 80 points in 18 games. In addition, the Ducks have gone over 90 points on nine occasions and have scored 100 or more four times.
“Our bench is going to be important because of the way they play,” Close said. “In terms of being so aggressive and extending (their defense), we’re going to use a lot of energy just bringing the ball up, much less running our offense.”
The Badgers can counter some of that pressure by getting to the free throw line. “It’s still about what we do well,” said Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard. “It’s about transition defense, taking care of the ball and high-percentage shots.”
Close echoed some of those thoughts, citing the importance of “defending and making it tough for them to score.” He also said, “We can’t let them get too many easy 3s, we can’t get beat in transition and we’ve got to keep them off the free throw line.”
To advance in this tournament, it’s about execution when the pressure is on. It’s about consistency and adherence to a plan.
“It’s staying true to yourself,” Close said. “It’s doing what you do best. And it’s trusting that it’s going to be good enough.”