Big Ten Stepping Stone

They are two different teams with entirely different personal playing two different ACC teams, but former UW guard Jason Bohannon believes UW's loss against North Carolina can do for this year's team what UW's loss at Duke in 2007 did for his squad.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Standing one final time on the court of Cameron Indoor Stadium, Jason Bohannon knew what his University of Wisconsin men's basketball team has just gone through for forty minutes was going to make him and his teammates better.

He just wished it wasn't such a painful learning lesson.

The 2007 season was one of the best in the history of Wisconsin basketball with a school-record 31 wins, a sweep of the regular season and tournament championship for the first time in school history and a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.

In hindsight for that special season, one of the starting points for that success was one of its lowest.

"We learned that we can get better," said Bohannon, recalling Wisconsin's 82-58 defeat to No.7 Duke in Durham, N.C., in 2007. "Sometimes you learn more about the character of a team after a loss than a win. Think that was certainly the case with our team and how we bounced back and finished the year."

Playing 11 miles from the Duke campus where those lessons took place four years ago, time will tell if No.9 Wisconsin will take a similar learning lesson after falling to No.5 North Carolina, 60-57, in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge Wednesday night.

"With the experience they had of bringing everyone back from an elite eight team a year ago, (North Carolina) forced us to play really good basketball on both ends of the court" assistant coach Gary Close said. "If you want to win a Big Ten championship and do things in the NCAA Tournament, you have to be able to compete against these teams."

Like the 2007 season, Wisconsin this season didn't play a ranked team until its first true road game against a ranked ACC powerhouse. As a result, the up-tempo Duke went with to make the Badgers' big forwards run in transition worked, leading to easier baskets.

By the time Wisconsin adjusted, outscoring, it was too late and too much to ask to dig out of a 48-25 halftime hole, especially committing 18 turnovers that led to 17 fast-break points.

"It was one of those games where we let Duke get going early," Bohannon said. "Anytime a team comes out and hits a couple of shots right away it will give them confidence. We let them do that and it went from there. On the road, whenever you get down quite a bit, it's always tough to come back especially in an environment like Duke.

"Duke just happened to be the first ranked team we played that year. That's how it fell on the calendar. We played many more throughout the year."

The flight home was a quick one for members of Bohannon's team filled with a lot of sleep and a lot of reflection. When the team met the next day, the film was reviewed, the experience was put in their back pocket and the things a hot-shooting, confident Duke exposed were fixed.

It's one of the main reasons Wisconsin fared well when faced with adversity the rest of the year. So when the next ranked team came on the schedule and UW was forced to play on the road without starting point Trevon Hughes because of an ankle injury sustained the day before, it was an opportunity UW knew how to handle, a reason it earned a 67-66 victory, the last time UW beat a top 10 team on the road.

"Yes, it did frustrate us we lost but it made us a better team and got us to where we wanted to become March," Bohannon said. "Any time you play a team of Duke's caliber on the road, it will certainly help you throughout the course of the Big Ten schedule and into the tournament. I would say that our collective nonconference schedule helped us significantly throughout the rest of the year. Each game we played, we got better from and for any championship team that is going to be the case."

This year's edition was far from one sided. Wisconsin's stingy defense held North Carolina to 42.2 percent shooting, a season-low 60 points, 14 committed turnovers and only two fast-break points. Considering that North Carolina is one of the best up-tempo teams with one of the strongest frontcourts in the nation, the Badgers asserted themselves as a team that can make a run in the Big Ten and the NCAA Tournament.

"We want to play the best and North Carolina was previously ranked No.1. I am sure they will find their way up there again by the end of the year," said junior Jared Berggren. "We're lucky to have this opportunity and you have to play the best to prepare yourself for the Big Ten. Playing a team like that will get us ready because we had to sharpen our game."

From a guy who has been through a bad ACC bump before, Bohannon certainly doesn't disagree.

"I definitely think it will have a positive impact on them because of the great opportunity," Bohannon said. "As a player, that is a great feeling getting to play in these types of games. For them going forward, they are going to learn who they are right now as a team and see where they can get better.

"Every great team knows that there is room for improvement and that is why Coach Ryan is successful year in and year out because he gets each player and team to believe there is room for improvement throughout the season. They want to get better each and every day … and they will because of UNC."


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