The Badgers have logged lots of minutes lately and it's taking a toll on weary bodies.
By JESSE TEMPLEFS Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — All the so-called "free basketball"
Wisconsin has played the past two weeks hasn't exactly been freeing the
Badgers of their aches and pains during an already taxing Big Ten grind.
In total, 20 extra minutes — a full half — have been played in Wisconsin's last three games. Wisconsin defeated Iowa in double overtime on Feb. 6, edged Michigan in one OT session on Feb. 9 and then lost at Minnesota in overtime on Thursday night.
It's enough to send Badgers players limping away to an extended ice tub bath.
"You play three overtime games, that does take a toll on your body," Badgers center Jared Berggren said. "Mentally, you've just got to be tough. That's when you find out what you have."
No. 20 Wisconsin (17-8, 8-4) will find out exactly what it has left when it plays host to No. 13 Ohio State (18-6, 8-4) at noon CT Sunday. The game completes a stretch for Wisconsin of playing seven ranked teams in 11 games. And two of those non-ranked teams — Illinois and Minnesota — were ranked in the Associated Press top 25 poll during the Badgers' first matchup against them. Wisconsin is 6-4 during that stretch, including 2-1 in overtime games.
"We've won overtime games before, so we have confidence that we know we can win in overtime or close games for that matter," Wisconsin guard Ben Brust said. "So just take the good from those and apply that to whenever we're in that situation. We've been there before and got it done, so we've got to do that each time."
Wisconsin will attempt to avoid becoming the first Division I basketball team to play four consecutive overtime games since Dayton in 1988. The only other D-I schools to play four straight OT games are Jacksonville (1982) and Illinois State (1985). None of those teams won all four, although Jacksonville and Illinois State finished 3-1 during that stretch.
If Wisconsin is to have any shot at downing Ohio State in the Kohl Center, the Badgers will have to do a better job of attacking the rim. On Jan. 29, Ohio State edged Wisconsin 58-49 during the teams' first game at Value City Arena. It was a game in which Wisconsin didn't attempt a single free throw for the first time in Bo Ryan's 12-year tenure as Badgers coach.
The Badgers took 28 3-pointers and just 24 2-pointers.
"Last time we might have settled for too many outside jumpers," Berggren said. "We should have done a better job getting the ball inside and when we did get it inside, finish stronger."
Defensively, the key will be containing Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas, who scored 25 points and made 10 of the Buckeyes' 23 field goals last month against Wisconsin. Thomas leads the Big Ten in scoring by two full points, averaging 20.2 points per game.
"We let him catch it in a comfort zone," Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said. "He made some shots. That comfort level and that confidence we allowed him to develop and get going early played into some of the tough shots he made late. He made some that were unguardable."
Wisconsin players insist physical fatigue isn't a significant factor at this late stage of the season because they are well conditioned. Still, the mental fatigue from allowing victory to slip away against a rival in the final seconds could prove more taxing than expected.
Thursday night, Wisconsin clung to a 49-47 lead against Minnesota with 22.1 seconds remaining in regulation when Badgers forward Mike Bruesewitz moved on the baseline while attempting to inbound the ball and turned it over. Joe Coleman was fouled on the ensuing possession and made two free throws to send the game into overtime.
Minnesota guard Andre Hollins buried a 3-pointer at the 3:36 mark of overtime, and Wisconsin never held a lead again. Now, Wisconsin is two full games out of first place in the Big Ten, locked in a three-way logjam for third with Michigan and Ohio State.
Berggren said his team had two options in the two days of practice between the Minnesota loss and the Ohio State game.
"You can sit and sulk about it or you can get out and do something," he said. "Get back to work and turn the page and move on to the next one. That's what we're going to do. We're going to get to work out here in practice and just start getting ready for Ohio State. You've got to learn from your mistakes, look forward to the next one and just learn what you can do better the next time."
Avoiding another overtime game would be an excellent start.