Bloomington, Ind. – It might just be now or never time for the No. 21 Indiana Hoosiers.
With three Big Ten road losses in three tries, coupled with setbacks in three of their last four games, the Hoosiers must find a way to do something they have not done since the 1997-98 season - beat Wisconsin on the road.
Indiana has lost five straight games in Madison and that streak must come to an end if the Hoosier hopes of winning the Big Ten are to come to fruition.
"It's real important to me to win this game," said senior guard Marshall Strickland. "Last year we almost had one at Wisconsin and we got a little tease with that. I think this year we're going in there to win this ball game."
Last season Indiana split the series with Wisconsin, with both teams winning at home. The Hoosiers won a 74-61 win at Assembly Hall, but lost a heart breaker at Wisconsin, 62-60, on a last-second tip-in by Alando Tucker. The loss at Wisconsin knocked Indiana out of third place in the Big Ten.
"We weren't scared last year," said Strickland. "We went in there to win last year and we had a shot to win it. That's what we want. We want to go in there and really play our game. We feel like we can win the ball game."
The Hoosiers finished fourth in the Big Ten last season with a 10-6 conference record. After winning all eight homes games, Indiana went just 2-6 on the road. Halfway through this conference slate Indiana is 5-0 at home and 0-3 on the road and on a crash course with mirroring last season's invincibility at home, but vulnerability on the road.
With Wisconsin on a three-game Big Ten losing streak, this could be a chance for Indiana to knock the Badgers out of championship contention while keeping the Hoosiers on pace.
"It's a huge game for both of us," said Strickland. "They're in the mix now just as we are. We think we can win the Big Ten, but we have to go on the road and win some games. We need to start at Wisconsin."
Winning at Wisconsin is not an easy feat. Since opening the doors to the Kohl Center in 1998 the Badgers are 69-5 at home. Since Bo Ryan arrived at the start of 2001-02 season, Wisconsin is 37-2 in Big Ten games in Madison, with both of those setbacks coming against Illinois.
The Hoosiers know all too well about the Badgers recent success.
"The one thing with Wisconsin is that they always play hard, especially at their place," said Strickland. "It is going to be a tough game to win.
"They are so consistent. It is hard to get them out of their rhythm. And that is what we are going to try to do (Wednesday). We are going to try to speed them up and pressure them a lot."
Indiana will attack Wisconsin with a new-look lineup. Mike Davis recently moved Marshall Strickland back to the point guard position in an effort to get more point production from the position. That move produced 76.0 points/game a week ago. Before the move, opposing teams had been using one of its big men to defend Lewis Monroe, the one-time Hoosier starter who had generally shied away from being aggressive offensively.
"I dare them to put a big guy on me," said Strickland. "I want to make plays and I'm always going to look to score so it'll be a challenge for other teams.
"I think (Coach Davis) puts me at the point for a reason because I can shoot. He wants me to play my game regardless of where I'm at. If I get open shots I'm going to take them if I'm at the two or the one."
With eight games to go and sitting in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers will need to find ways to win on the road to win a Big Ten title. A win at Wisconsin would make the road a much easier one to travel for the Hoosiers, and the team knows it.
"We're focusing on getting better everyday," said Strickland. "We've been playing really hard in practice and we had some good practices lately, even before UConn. I think just continuing to work at this midpoint will help us to finish out strong."
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