The road is always treacherous in the Big Ten and especially this season when each team has at least two conference losses and nine teams are within two games of first place.
Go figure this season when Wisconsin – which entered this season 152-11 (.933) overall and 78-6 (.929) against the Big Ten at home under UW coach Bo Ryan – has three home losses, two conference losses and is the best road team in the Big Ten.
"It's a crazy league," said Jared Berggren, who finished with 18 points. "It was definitely disappointing when we lost three in a row. We got down a little bit, but we tried to stay positive, stay together and keep in mind that it's a long season and everybody is going to take some bumps.
"We were able to fight and scratch our way into things."
Following a supreme second half in which it shot 46.7 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line, Wisconsin, thanks to a game-high 19 points from senior All-American Jordan Taylor, won its sixth game away from the Kohl Center and it's first against a ranked road team since 2008 when it beat No.22 Illinois, 67-63, at Assembly Hall Sunday.
Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) leads the conference in road/neutral wins, have shot over 42.5 percent from the field away from home and not only won at both Purdue and Illinois for the first time since 1918, but did so by busing four-plus hours to each games and doing it 10 days apart.
"It's just a mentality," said sophomore Josh Gasser, as Wisconsin is 5-0 when it busses to games this season (approximately 1,440 miles). "We are a bunch of tough kids that aren't going to lose easy. Coming into environments like this, we take it as a challenge, have fun with it and have good leadership. When you have that, it's easy."
Nothing was easy about the way Wisconsin beat Illinois for the fourth time in the last six road trips. In a game that featured 11 lead changes and eight ties, the Badgers finally distanced themselves with that ‘gritty' mentality that could be emphasized on one singular play.
With the Badgers leading, 51-50, with just over 7 minutes remaining, Gasser went to the floor to deflect a loose ball. It was secured by a diving Mike Bruesewitz, who made a pass to Ben Brust from his knees. As Brust went in for the lay-up, Taylor — who scored seven points in the final 32.1 seconds — stepped in front of Illinois junior Brandon Paul, cutting off Paul's alley to Brust and allowing the easy score.
Those are plays Wisconsin didn't make during its losing streak, especially during a humbling 18-point defeat at Michigan, the only road venue this season where Wisconsin was not competitive for 40 minutes.
"It was coming together and making sure that we do the things we have to do," said Brust.
Wisconsin, a team that was .500 on the road and at neutral sites the past two seasons combined, seems to have a scrappier attitude this year, particularly away from home.
"We got a different group of guys in the locker room than maybe my four years here," Taylor said. "We've got a lot of different personalities. We all play well, we all love playing with each other, but we have a lot of road personalities. Just fun guys that come together."
Never seeming to battle boredom during down time, Gasser and his roommate Bruesewitz hang out in their room, order a movie and talk about things other than basketball.
"We see each other five, six hours a day, and that's when we talk basketball," Gasser said. "We all have good camaraderie that we don't need to talk about basketball to have a good conversation."
Brust, a NASCAR junkie, bought a four-pack NASCAR greatest races/greatest drivers DVD set specifically for road trips. As he explained how he felt like a kid in the candy store, Gasser walked by, hit Brust in the head and told him to "shut up," another sign of a team that doesn't let things get too serious.
"We just come together on the road, no matter what environment it is," said Brust.
Ryan was honest when he said he never brought up the team's three-game losing skid. He likely also won't spend time trumpeting the Badgers' current four-game winning streak now that they're just a half-game out of first place with 10 conference games left.
"It's always about next (with me)," said Ryan.
Consider that a winning philosophy.
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