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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Pair of ranked teams to clash in West Lafayette

Keaton Nankivil: Junior forward Keaton Nankivil turned in an efficient shooting performance against Penn State after battling inconsistency.

Pair of ranked teams to clash in West Lafayette

Since junior forward Jon Leuer went down with a wrist injury over two weeks ago, Wisconsin has done more than stay afloat. The Badgers are 3-1 without Leuer and have risen to second place in the Big Ten. But tonight brings Wisconsin's greatest test without Leuer, as the No. 16 Badgers (6-2 Big Ten, 16-4 overall) travel to West Lafayette for a critical matchup with No. 12 Purdue (4-3, 16-3).

This is the second meeting between the two teams this season, with Wisconsin taking the previous game in Madison, 73-66.

The first clash between the two was the contest in which Leuer hurt his wrist. Leuer remained in the game with the injury, but was ineffective and has been sidelined ever since.

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Much has changed for the Boilermakers since they entered the Kohl Center Jan. 9 with a No. 4 ranking and an unblemished record. After falling to the Badgers, Purdue then dropped its next two contests to Ohio State and Northwestern. The Boilermakers recovered with back-to-back wins against Michigan and Illinois. But even with a current two-game winning streak, Purdue remains 2.5 games behind 8-0 Michigan State, thus needing tonight's game badly if it still hopes to catch the Spartans.

Wisconsin, even without Leuer, also has its sights set on the Big Ten regular season crown. The Badgers have sustained their success without Leuer up to this point, relying on senior guard Trevon Hughes for consistent offensive production while seeing several other sources step up at different times to provide a lift.

Against Purdue earlier this season, with an unproductive Leuer, senior guard Jason Bohannon and sophomore guard Jordan Taylor combined for 43 points. Against Northwestern, Bohannon scored a game-high 19 points and against Michigan, sophomore forward Rob Wilson burst onto the scene with 13 much-needed points in a comeback victory.

A positive trend for the Badgers' role players this season has been their ability to turn in solid performances after unproductive games. Junior forward Keaton Nankivil shot 3-of-11 from the field and 1-for-7 from behind the arc against Michigan, but then shot 7-of-9 from the field and 3-for-4 from long distance the next game against Penn State.

""As a shooter you have to have a short memory,"" associate head coach Greg Gard said. ""You have to just go to the next one ... You've got to remember the makes, you've got to forget the misses.""

The Badgers' overall offensive output has not taken much of a hit in terms of points per game this season. Even without Leuer, the Badgers still have a chance to get down low for easy baskets by using the dribble instead of the pass.

""There are two ways to touch the post,"" Gard said. ""One is via the pass, which everyone thinks is throwing it to the big guy, and the other one is touching it through the dribble.""

The Boilermakers can look to several players to produce offensively. Junior guard E'Twaun Moore scores a team-high 17.5 points per game, which ranks fourth in the conference.

But Purdue's most dangerous offensive tool may be junior forward Robbie Hummel. Standing 6'8"", Hummel can hurt teams from inside and outside. In the two teams' first meeting, Wisconsin contained Hummel well, holding the forward to 3-of-13 shooting. UW hopes to replicate that effort tonight.

The game tips off at 6 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.


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