Frustrated Badgers, Buckeyes meet today

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Jeff Potrykus, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Saturday, February 1, 2014

MADISON—One day after a home loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker stood in front of a bank of TV cameras and questioned the team’s toughness and preparedness.

“It’s frustrating to lose four out of five,” Dekker said after practice Thursday. “Especially after going down to Purdue and thinking we turned things around and we come not ready to play (Wednesday).

“That is very frustrating. That is unacceptable. We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable to come prepared.”

Minutes after a home loss to Penn State on Wednesday, Ohio State senior Lenzelle Smith Jr. questioned the Buckeyes’ toughness, character and leadership.

“This hurts the most out of every game since I’ve been at Ohio State,” Smith said after the overtime loss to the Nittany Lions. “We’ve got to get back to being a team and wanting to win….

“As a team, we don’t care enough. It’s embarrassing. Every other team in the conference is laughing at us.”

When No. 14 UW (17-4, 4-4 Big Ten) and No. 24 Ohio State (16-5, 3-5) meet today at the Kohl Center (11 a.m., ESPN), it will mark the ninth league game for each team.

Both teams climbed to No. 3 in The Associated Press top 25 poll before sliding back.

The Buckeyes, beginning with a 72-68 overtime loss at Michigan State, have lost five of six games. UW, beginning with a 75-72 loss at Indiana, has lost four of five.

“They’ve had some bumps in the road,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “We’ve had some bumps in the road.”

The Buckeyes struggle to score consistently and are sixth in league play in scoring (68.9 points per game), sixth in field-goal percentage (42.4 percent) and eighth in three-point shooting (32.2 percent).

However, their defense also struggled in the 71-70 loss to the Nittany Lions.

The Nittany Lions entered the night ninth in the Big Ten in field-goal shooting in league games (38.5 percent) but shot 48.3 percent against the Buckeyes (28 of 58). As a result, they wiped out an 11-point deficit in the final 7 minutes 58 seconds of regulation to force overtime.

“We weren’t the tougher basketball team tonight,” Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft said after the loss. “That’s what it comes down to.”

That should sound familiar to UW fans, because Northwestern’s players were more tenacious than UW’s.

“They were the aggressor,” Gard said. “They imposed their will on us and we didn’t respond until it was too late.”

UW’s current skid started with a weak defensive effort at Indiana. The defense Wednesday against Northwestern wasn’t awful—the Wildcats shot 47.9 percent—but poor shot selection led to UW’s downfall.

The Badgers hit their first two shots—both three-pointers—and then too often settled for jump shots. They missed their next 10 shots, including 5 threes.

“I thought we were good enough to win defensively,” Gard said. “We weren’t perfect. We weren’t as good as we need to be but we need to be much better offensively….

“Shot selection can get a little waylaid if you have some success (early). Maybe you have a tendency to go back to the same thing again.

“I thought we settled for too many (three-pointers) in the first half and allowed them to hang around and they gained some confidence.”

UW finished the game 5 of 24 from three-point range (20.8 percent) and 15 of 57 overall (26.3 percent).

“We’ve got to be more consistent in touching the post and playing inside-out,” Gard said. “When we’ve done that we’ve been very good and shot a higher percentage of threes.”

In the days leading to the rematch with Northwestern, several UW players noted the Wildcats received a wake-up call when they suffered a 76-49 loss to UW in the Big Ten opener Jan. 2. Might UW’s 65-56 loss to Northwestern do the same for the UW players?

“I would have thought the game at Indiana would have,” Gard said. “Every game is a learning experience. You’re dealing with young men between 18 to 22 who are dealing with different things every day.

“That’s why athletics are what they are. It’s always variable. There’s never a constant. So the teams that can be the most consistent give themselves the best chance.”

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