January 14, 2009

Gophers bring improved team to Madison

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin dropped its first conference game of the season Sunday afternoon at Purdue. In games when UW loses, it usually avoids the losing streak by winning the next one. However, in a rugged Big Ten, that is easier said and done.

Following Tuesday's practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with UW assistant coach Gary Close. During the conversation, Close discussed what went wrong at Purdue, how Minnesota is a different team than ones from the past and the state of the rivalry. The following is a question and answer with Close:

Looking back at the film of Purdue during that 19-4 run, what was the big problem that kind of buried the team?

Close: Well, I think one would be we didn't make some shots that we normally do and I think Purdue deserves some credit for that. We got ourselves a little out of sync offensively, but to our credit we found a way to get back into the game. We just didn't execute at a level that got ourselves a win and a lot of it comes down to just making shots. We missed some shots inside that normally we make and miss a couple of jumpers and if some of those had gone down it might have been a different story. But that's the nature of the game, you've got to fight through those things. To our credit we did that get ourselves back in the game by halftime, we just couldn't sustain it through the second half.

Is that a matter of maybe running out of energy after you claw your way back into a ball game after falling behind by that much?

Close: I don't think we ran out of energy. I think Purdue did a nice job of executing. They just executed better than we did. When you're making shots, it makes things look better. They made their shots and we didn't. They deserve some of the credit for that but also, I know some of our guys say there's shots I should have made that didn't go, but that's part of the game.

Over the past 22 Big Ten games, Purdue is the only team to beat Wisconsin. What is it about them, is it just match-up problems, is it just that they are a good team…?

Close: They're good. I mean every game has been a battle. This one got away a little bit at the end, but the two games last year were basically one or two possession games. They made shots, made plays we didn't. So I think its more just they're a good team with some good talent. They've got the preseason Big Ten player of the year (Robbie Hummel) and they're supposed to win the league or picked to win the league and they'll be in it right until the end. So I think it's more talent, they're well coached. We've had our chances, but we just haven't made shots or finished the game.

Moving forward, Minnesota plays a little bit like Purdue does defensively just being up in your face and ball pressure or what not. Is it kind of good to go against Minnesota right after seeing a similar look from Purdue?

Close: Minnesota's good, they do some things differently than Purdue does in terms of throwing some zone at you and full court pressure. They're very deep, I mean, they go 11, 12 deep. They throw a lot of bodies at you at both ends of the court so it's a little bit different of a preparation. But their guards will pressure in man a lot like the Purdue guards will. In that sense, it's probably a break although a lot of the guards in our league get after you pretty good.

Last year was Tubby Smith's first year up there. Could you tell right away that a team coached by him was different than what Minnesota had in years before he came?

Close: Oh yeah, I don't think there is any question. I think the guys that were in the program have gotten better. They've added some different dimensions in terms of athleticism and size so it's a team that is playing with a lot of confidence. Winning will do that. They got a big win over Louisville which I think probably boosts their confidence even more. But I think it's good coaching and I think it's an infusion of a lot of talent that has upgraded the program.

Is that good for the state of the rivalry?

Close: Oh it's good for the league. I mean, everybody wants your best shot. They're not the only example. Michigan is better, you can almost build a case for everybody being better than they were last year. That's good for the league and that's why it's going to be just a battle from start to finish for every game.

How would you rate this rivalry?

Close: It's a good rivalry. I mean, we've always had good games with Minnesota up there as well as down here. We've had some success as have they. But it's not unlike a lot of Big Ten games. It's just they're better, they've gotten steadily better. I think any time you've got two teams that are playing at a high level, then the rivalry is going to be even more intense. They deserve credit for it. They're program has improved like a lot of other teams in the league and they think they've got a chance to win the league and they do. What better way of doing that than coming in here and defeating the defending Big Ten champs which I know is something they feel they can do.

Does that rivalry extend onto the recruiting scene, too? I know UW has pulled some of the state of Minnesota's best players down here. Does that kind of fuel the fire, too?

Close: I don't know. I think in recruiting you just work your tail off and see where the chips fall. There are a lot of players and a lot of states and it just so happens we've had a run where we've gotten some kids from there. They got a kid from Wisconsin on their team. So it's not that far apart, it's not like you're driving that far. It's good healthy competition and that's what makes the league special.

...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!