MADISON, Wis. — Winning has occurred with such ease the past six weeks that Wisconsin’s basketball players have been forced to confront the type of comical questioning that can only come when other storylines run dry. Specifically, they’ve been asked in the buildup to Tuesday’s game at Maryland whether they are actually bored.
Yes, bored during a 10-game winning streak that has placed the Badgers on the precipice of capturing their first Big Ten regular season championship since 2008. Bored with winning eight of those games by double figures. Bored with trailing for a total of zero seconds in the second half of any game since Jan. 11.
"I’m not bored at all," Badgers guard Josh Gasser said. "It’s not easy out there. Just because we’re winning, we’re still fighting. We’re still playing really hard. And it’s never boring winning. It might be boring if we were losing games and you can’t find a way to win."
No. 5 Wisconsin (25-2, 13-1) plays at No. 14 Maryland (22-5, 10-4) at 6 p.m. CT Tuesday in one of the Badgers’ most difficult Big Ten games this season. It is a game that figures to challenge UW in a way that has not taken place during the entire conference season. But players say just because Wisconsin has won handily while Maryland’s last five Big Ten victories all have been by single digits does not mean the Badgers aren’t prepared for a close game.
"We’ve been tested enough," Wisconsin center Frank Kaminsky said. "We know we’re a good team and we know they’re a good team. So that’s all we’re concerned about. . . . We’re going to prepare for them like they’re the best team in the country like we do for everyone."
Perhaps the most incredible statistic to emerge from Wisconsin’s current winning streak — its longest in conference play since an 11-game run in the 1940-41 season — is how many minutes the Badgers have actually led during that span compared to their opponents. Consider that, during the last 10 games, opponents have led for a total of 16 minutes, 49 seconds. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has led for a total of 363 minutes, 50 seconds.
You read that right. For every minute an opposing team has led, Wisconsin has led for more than 21 minutes.
In four of those games — against Iowa at home, Northwestern at home, Nebraska at home and Penn State on the road — the opponent did not lead at all. Indiana led for only 15 seconds in its 92-78 loss at the Kohl Center on Feb. 3. Wisconsin’s largest deficit during its streak was four points against Nebraska early in the first half on Feb. 10. The Badgers also did not trail at all in the second half or during overtime against Michigan in a 69-64 victory on Jan. 24.
All of that success led ESPN analyst Dan Dakich to suggest on air that players were, in fact, bored during Wisconsin’s 63-53 victory against Minnesota on Saturday — a topic players quickly dismissed.
"I wouldn’t say it’s boring," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "It’s pretty fun winning games. There’s times I think that mentally we have kind of relaxed at times. But overall I think we’ve been pretty sharp. You don’t win 10 in a row without being sharp. I think Coach is pretty happy with where we’re at. But we still haven’t done that whole 40-minute thing that I’ve talked about. Maybe Tuesday is the time to get that."
Gasser said he could understand how some outsiders might believe Wisconsin’s players had spent most of games too comfortable because of how well they’d played. But he noted using the word bored was a "weird" way to put it. UW can clinch at least a share of the regular-season title with a victory against Maryland, and nothing about that seems dull to him.
"We’ve been up by 10 pretty much every first half it seems like and kind of cruised all the way through, but it’s not boring," Gasser said. "I don’t know how to put it. It’s hard to win. I know for me, every possession, I always feel like in a two-minute point in the game, it could swing just like that. It’s always focus for us. We’re always looking at what could potentially happen, so just to finish out the full 40-minute game. That’s the way we’ve been playing. It’s worked out."
Of course, if there was any semblance of complacency creeping in by Wisconsin’s success, Badgers coach Bo Ryan has made sure that won’t be an issue moving forward. Ryan has noted on more than once occasion the past few days that UW plays the most difficult four-game closing schedule in the Big Ten — at Maryland, home against surging Michigan State, at Minnesota and at Ohio State.
"This stretch right here, seriously, if you look at anybody else’s last four games, this is quite the stretch, I’m sure," Ryan said. "But our players right now, we’re just concentrating on the next one. No matter what, when they throw 18 games out there, you play them how they are on the schedule and see what you can get done."
So far, Wisconsin has done plenty. But players in the program recognize there is so much more to achieve, even during one of the best regular seasons in program history.
"We set one of our goals to win the Big Ten championship, and it’s right in front of us now," Kaminsky said. "We’ve got to go out there and take it. Obviously it would be a great accomplishment. But we’re looking to close out this Big Ten season, keep this streak alive going to the end of the Big Ten season."