March 4, 2009
UW and Minnesota set for rematch
MADISON, Wis. - Trevon Hughes did not hesitate to acknowledge the impact Minnesota's win over Wisconsin had earlier this season at the Kohl Center. When asked if that game was the toughest loss of the season, Hughes wasted little time.
"It definitely was," he said. "We had that game and we felt like we let up. When you got them down like that, put your foot on their throat and we didn't. We're too nice of a team and we got to get that mentality of the eye of the tiger and put them away."
In that shocker, the Badgers let a 12 point lead with less than five minutes to play and a six point lead with less than a minute to play slip away. When Lawrence Westbrook drilled a three with three seconds left, he capped the Gophers frenzied rally and sent the contest to overtime.
From that point on, the Badgers shot only 22.2 percent from the field and were outscored by four to lose in the extra session. At the time, the loss was UW's second in a row. Little did it know that it would take four more consecutive losses before it would record another victory.
"It was tough," UW sophomore Jon Leuer said following a recent practice. "I don't know how you can compare losses. Obviously we made some mistakes down the stretch, but I feel like we've grown a lot this year as a team and some of those younger guys are starting to come around."
As Wisconsin prepares to take on Minnesota in the rematch later tonight, it will do so as winners of six of its past seven games. During that stretch, the Badgers are holding opponents to just 51.9 points per game and have forced nearly 30 more turnovers than they have committed as they have worked their way back into near-tournament-lock status.
"We thought about where we've come the last couple months," UW senior Joe Krabbenhoft said. "That's the way most teams are here at Wisconsin, just keep improving and figuring out ways to win ball games."
Meanwhile, the Gophers have sputtered to an 8-8 conference record, one worse than Wisconsin in the league standings. Of its past seven games, Minnesota has compiled a less than impressive 2-5 record.
During the stretch, the Gophers have allowed 61.8 points per game while only mustering 56.7 points themselves. The recent skid has Minnesota squarely on the bubble in most postseason discussions.
Offensively Westbrook and his 12.2-point average pace the Gopher's scoring. In the first tilt against Wisconsin, it was Westbrook's hot hand and 29 points that doomed the Badgers.
"It's going to be the same principles that we used against Manny Harris," Krabbenhoft said in reference to defending Westbrook. "We're just going to go out there and stick to him. They usually work if we stick to him."
ForwardDamian Johnson and guards Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber average more than seven points each. They are part of an 11-man rotation that second year head coach Tubby Smith enjoys rotating into the game.
"I think we have a pretty deep bench too and we're rotating guys in," Leuer said. "At the same time, coach Bo Ryan and what he does, keeps us pretty fresh too. In the end, when it comes down to March, you really can't be too worried about any injuries you might have. This is the time of year that it becomes more mental than anything."
With a win, UW will lock up a winning conference record yet again. Under Ryan, the Badgers have never finished with a losing record in league play. However, doing it in the barn will not be easy.
"The crowd is going to sound a little different (and) the arena is going to look a little different," Krabbenhoft said. "But you just go out there and play. Guys are adjusting pretty well and it's March now so we're pretty used to playing on the road."
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