Winning streak revives men’s hoops

first_imgIn the midst of a five-game winning streak, Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser has given the Badgers excellent all-around play. He had eight points, two rebounds and an assist against Indiana.[/media-credit]Halfway through the Big Ten season, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team has found its groove.After losing three of their first four conference games, including three straight at one point, the Badgers have now won their last five in a stretch of contests that wasn’t consistently pretty, but rewarding nonetheless.Thursday night against Indiana, Wisconsin shot barely less than 40 percent (39.6) from the field and connected on just four of 17 three-point attempts. A 3-for-7 mark from the free throw line in the first half was perhaps the clearest sign the Badgers were not about to have a sparkling night shooting the basketball.Ten second-half points from Ben Brust and stingier team defense sufficed to carry Wisconsin to a 57-50 victory, and afterward, head coach Bo Ryan praised his team’s “grit” and “fight” in pulling out the win. Whether it was those factors at play or simply better luck putting the ball in the hoop, the effort was emblematic of the confidence the Badgers have fostered in their five-game streak.“Especially when we get a couple of close wins and grit out a couple wins, it makes everything feel a little bit better,” forward/center Jared Berggren said. “Guys have their confidence back; maybe we lost it a bit during our rough stretch there.”The first game of that skid was a home loss to Iowa on New Year’s Eve, and three days later, Wisconsin lost again in the Kohl Center to Michigan State. For a team that was a perfect 16-0 on its own court last season and also fell to Marquette in Madison back in early December, the Badgers appeared to be thrown off-kilter by their three home losses less than a week into the new year.Several pitiful shooting efforts – the three-game skid saw the Badgers shoot below 40 percent in each game, and Wisconsin also hit just 31 percent against Nebraska – ensued and the Badgers’ woes stuck around until a tough 67-62 road win at Purdue Jan. 12.“We’ve been playing better overall, we’ve been winning,” assistant coach Lamont Paris said. “A lot of times, we’re just really structured. You feel like, hey, we’ve got some good shots, we just haven’t made them. We’re right there where we need to be, and we’re going to win it one way or the other – whether that means a defensive stop, or somebody’s going to make a shot, whatever it takes.”This week, with a trip to Penn State looming Tuesday night and then a battle with No. 3 Ohio State slated for Saturday afternoon, the longevity of that confidence will surely be tested. Wisconsin also has five road games remaining in Big Ten play, including trips to Ohio State and Michigan State – both of which could be top-10 opponents by the time they meet the Badgers.“I feel pretty much all of our games have been close lately, so that’s definitely going to help us moving on throughout the year,” guard Josh Gasser said. “We’ve got a lot of tough guys on our team that don’t like to lose. That’s a good thing to have.”The Badgers also have their top-ranked defense, which is almost always a saving grace in Madison. Wisconsin allows just 49.6 points per game and holds opponents on average to 36.3 percent shooting from the field, both the best marks in the country.Against Indiana Thursday night, Berggren was critical in shutting down the Hoosiers’ leading scorer, 6-foot-11 forward Cody Zeller. Averaging 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, Zeller had just seven and three, respectively, against the Badgers. Saddled with four fouls, he took the floor for just 10 minutes in the second half.Berggren also blocked five shots in that game, fueling much of the talk of grit and fight permeating Wisconsin’s post-game press conferences.“I think we’re showing a little more of it now this little winning streak we’re on here,” Berggren said. “It’s not something that you can really turn on or off sometimes; it’s just something you’ve got to have. It’s something that we have. The guys in our locker room are all tough kids, and they’re all going to play hard.”last_img

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