Badgers leery of Wildcats

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Josh Gasser knows Wisconsin's dismantling of Northwestern earlier this month will mean bupkis when the teams meet tonight at the Kohl Center (8 p.m., BTN).

“We kind of gave them a wake-up call in that first game,” Gasser said, referring to UW's 76-49 victory Jan. 2 in the teams' Big Ten opener.

That night Northwestern appeared to be a team that might not win a game in the Big Ten. Yet since losing to UW the Wildcats (10-11, 3-5 Big Ten) have posted a 3-4 record.

They won at home against Illinois and Purdue and then stunned host Indiana four days after the Hoosiers toppled UW.

The losses came against No. 7 Michigan State, No. 10 Michigan and No. 15 Iowa (twice).

“They've been winning games,” Gasser said. “They're not going to beat themselves. They're really good on defense. They share the ball well. They're extremely well-coached and they're going to play hard.

“So if we don't bring it we could see a different result than we're looking for.”

UW (17-3, 4-3) shot 59.3 percent in building a 40-14 halftime lead in the first meeting and finished at 55.2 percent.

The Wildcats then allowed 52.1 percent shooting in a 74-51 loss at Michigan and 56.9 percent shooting in a 93-67 loss at Iowa.

After the 0-3 start in league play they slowed the pace and tightened their defense to win three of their next four games.

Illinois, Indiana and Purdue shot 28.1 percent or worse in losing to the Wildcats. Michigan State beat the Wildcats by 14 but shot just 38.5 percent.

According to first-year coach Chris Collins, the victory over Illinois showed his players how they have to play this season to win.

“Even though we lost those games early in the conference, I felt throughout the season we were making progress,” Collins said. “But until you see the fruits of those labors, until you see you can have success playing a certain way, I don't think it rings in with these guys.

“For them to be successful in that kind of game and kind of grind it out I think was huge for all of our confidence. Not only our players but also for the coaching staff.”

The turnaround took a hit Saturday with a 76-50 loss to visiting Iowa, though Collins noted his team was more competitive than in the first meeting.

“The first game we played them the game was virtually over at halftime,” he said. “With 12 minutes to go it was a seven-point game.

“What they did to us is what they've done to a lot of teams is they wear you down over the course of a game. We were very disappointed but we weren't defeated.”

UW associate head coach Greg Gard believes the players are smart enough to avoid making the mistake of taking an improved Northwestern team lightly.

“They know they beat Illinois and Purdue,” he said. “They know they won at Indiana, a place we couldn't get it done at.

“They understand what they've done, especially from a defensive standpoint and how hard they play.”

UW, which this week slipped five spots to No. 14 in The Associated Press top 25 poll, generally played harder and smarter in its 14-point victory Saturday at Purdue than it had during a three-game losing streak.

Before tip-off at Purdue, Gasser gathered the other four starters for a brief pep talk.

“I was just reiterating what we talked about all week, what our mind-set was,” Gasser said. “We all want to win. My message was: 'I know we want to win. But are we willing to do whatever it takes to win?'

“That was kind of what I think we were missing in that losing skid. You talk about how much you want to win but you've got to do the things necessary to win.

“I just brought us together and said we need to do that.”

Gasser and his teammates know UW will need the same attitude to avoid stumbling at home against the Wildcats.

“I would say that is where the trap comes in sometimes, when you beat a team handily and you come in and nonchalantly prepare for them,” said freshman Nigel Hayes, who had 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the first meeting. “That is when they come back and get you the second time. We've got to make sure we go in there focused and give their team the utmost respect.”

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