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Badgers travel to hostile Nebraska

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 9, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb.--Fourteen men’s basketball teams, including seven from the Big Ten, have visited Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena in its inaugural season.

Only one—Big Ten champion Michigan—has left the facility with a victory.

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers, whose team suffered an 80-67 loss there Feb. 20, knows what No. 9 Wisconsin will face when it meets the Cornhuskers in front of an anticipated sellout crowd of 15,147.

“I’m going to say it is the best in the Big Ten right now,” Chambers said, referring to the Cornhuskers’ home-court advantage. “And I’ve been to every place. … They go crazy. It is a home-court advantage.”

That challenge excites Bo Ryan’s UW players.

UW, which has won eight consecutive games, can clinch the No. 2 seeding in the Big Ten tournament with a victory over Nebraska or a loss by Michigan State today at Ohio State.

Nebraska has won seven of its last eight games and is making a late run to secure an NCAA berth.

“They are going to come out guns blazing,” UW sophomore Sam Dekker said. “The place is going to be sweet—great atmosphere. I’ve watched games and that place looks awesome. …

“They’ve got a good thing going down there. This is a big game for them. We’re ready for it. They’re ready for it, too. It is going to come down to who is going to be the tougher team.”

The Badgers are 11-2 away from home—8-2 in road games and 3-0 at neutral sites.

They have road victories over three regular-season league champions—Michigan, Virginia (Atlantic Coast Conference) and UW-Green Bay (Horizon League).

UW had to make critical plays late in all three games, including rallying from a seven-point deficit against UWGB.

“It is a group that doesn’t seem very rattled at any time, even in games where we’ve been down or other teams have made a run,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “They’ve always come to the bench, to the huddle, with a very confident look. It starts with Bo and how we approach every day. It’s always next.

“Whether it is the next day, next game, next play, I think they have that mindset that if a couple didn’t go our way, let’s change that momentum.

“And we’ve got a lot of very confident guys. It starts with our point guard. Trae (Jackson) is a very confident person, and the other guys fit their roles very well.”

Closing the regular season on the road against a hot team should provide another good test for UW as it prepares for the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

Nebraska entered the weekend second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense (41.4 percent) in league games and has held its last eight opponents to 37.3 percent shooting or worse.

The Cornhuskers, who finished 5-13 in the league last season, were picked last this season in the Columbus Dispatch preseason media poll.

“That’s been our calling card,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said of his team’s work on defense. “I will bet you money—even though I would never do that—that if you would ask the players if their calling card would be defense in October, they would laugh at you.”

Chambers wasn’t laughing after Penn State’s 13-point loss at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers hit 37 of 48 free-throw attempts; Penn State hit 17 of 23.

Nebraska averages 26.7 free-throw attempts at home compared to 17.9 attempts in road or neutral-site games. Nebraska opponents average 20.1 free-throw attempts at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

“That should give you an indication they’ve got a great home-court advantage,” Chambers said.

In poring over video from Nebraska’s games, Gard has seen a team that overcame a 0-4 start in league play and is much more aggressive offensively at home.

“Everybody that has gone in there this year has remarked how it is a tough place to play,” he said. “The team makes it tough and they’re playing extremely well. … But they seem to notch it up a couple levels at home. They turn it loose.”



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