Wisconsin (8-5 Big Ten, 21-5 overall) will look to ride the momentum of a trio of conference victories over Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan last week as it prepares for its matchup with No. 15 Iowa on Saturday.
Head coach Bo Ryan praised the performance of Frank Kaminsky against Michigan last Sunday, citing the forward’s ability to finish strong at the basket for his success. Kaminsky scored 25 points and pulled down 11 rebounds to pace the Badgers en route to their 75-62 victory.
Ryan expressed his respect for the competition this season within the Big Ten, which features five teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
“One through 12, everybody is playing hard, everybody is playing tough,” Ryan said. “All of those things are an indication that teams in the Big Ten know each other pretty well. Great crowds, great atmosphere.”
The No. 16 Badgers bring a 6-2 road record into Iowa City on Saturday.
“We’ve been a decent road team year in, year out,” Ryan said. “I don’t see our guys going on the road and not feeling that they can get it done. It’s a state of mind.”
Wisconsin beat Iowa at home, 75-71, Jan. 5 during its stretch of 16 consecutive victories to open the season. The Badgers have gone 5-5 since the streak ended, but Ryan said that his team is just as focused as it was during its hot start.
“They still work just as hard as they did back in October,” Ryan said of his team. “They just come everyday, eyes and ears open, their minds open. Results are different, but that’s the same with every team.”
Following a two game split last weekend in Columbus, the Badgers (8-5-1, 17-9-2) return to Madison for their final two home games of the year, facing Michigan State (3-5-6, 9-13-7) Friday and Saturday.
The Badgers have lost just twice at home this season, and head coach Mike Eaves hopes their strong play at the Kohl Center continues for senior weekend.
“[The season has] gone by quickly. Once we got by the [good]byes, and we talked yesterday, and I think we talked about it with the team, is the fact that this is the last home series for our seniors. Let’s send them off in a grand way,” Eaves said.
The upcoming series is a crucial one for the Badgers’ Big Ten title chances, as they currently sit in second place, seven points behind first place Minnesota (10-2-2, 21-4-5) with just six games to go in the regular season.
Though Eaves stated he is more focused on just finishing in the top two in order to get a bye in the Big Ten tournament, he said that he thought the Badgers could gain that top spot with the right luck.
“We still have a chance to win it. We’re going to need some help, play well ourselves,” Eaves said. “And secondly, we’re going to strive to be in the top two so we get that bye in the tournament, the Big Ten Tournament.”
Just three regular season games remain for the Badgers (3-10, 10-15), and with two ranked teams on the schedule next week, head coach Bobbie Kelsey is hoping for a big win to build momentum for the end of this season and into next year.
“Every win is a big win for us, but when you’re playing against the top of the league, you want to have that statement, signature game that you can build upon,” Kelsey said.
The Badgers have lost four in a row, and eight of their last nine, but Kelsey believes they are better than their record shows, having fallen just short in several games.
“When you take over a program and you’re trying to build it, that’s what you’re going to have, those 'almost' games,” Kelsey said.
She knows that the little things are the difference between wins and losses.
“It’s encouraging because we’re not getting blown out by 44 points,” she said. “When you’re that close, if I just box out, if I just make a free throw, if I just play a little better defense on that possession, throughout the course of the game, then you know you can knock somebody off. So I’m still believing.”
Next up is No. 23 Michigan State (9-3, 17-8), who defeated Wisconsin by just four points in their first meeting in East Lansing. Kelsey hopes they can turn that close loss into a win in the rematch, but the key is staying consistent.
“We’re streaky, but we have to be consistent. I think that’s the message to them, to be more consistent,” Kelsey said.
After defeating No. 21 North Dakota State Feb. 2, Wisconsin (5-1, 12-4) has had time to prepare for a tough weekend of conference matches to finish off the season.
The No. 15 Badgers will take on No. 9 Nebraska Friday and No. 3 Iowa Sunday in matchups that head coach Barry Davis said his team is geared up for.
“It’s been a nice two-week break from competition, let our guys work on a lot of technical skills,” Davis said. “It’s a big weekend coming up for us. I’m excited about that.”
Davis projected that the demanding end to the regular season will only serve to help the Badgers as they prepare for the Big Ten Championships beginning on March 8.
“This is what the Big Ten is all about here,” Davis said. “This will help us down the road for the Big Ten and the NCAAs as well.”
Even though the Big Ten Championships will take place in the Kohl Center, Davis reflected on the contributions of the senior members of the team in light of this weekend being the final regular season matches at home.
Davis indicated that seniors Tyler Graff, Scott Liegel and Jackson Hein provided valuable guidance to the team throughout the season in addition to their individual contributions on the mat.
“So we’ve got three good guys here to help lead this team in the room, out of the room,” Davis said. “They’ve actually been great leaders for the team, for the young guys as well too. That’s the biggest thing.”