MILWAUKEE—After an emotional, come from behind victory over Richmond Friday, the possibility of facing Pittsburgh in the second round of the NCAA tournament was the farthest thing from the minds of the Wisconsin Badgers.
"We're just going to enjoy this one tonight," UW guard Devin Harris said after the Richmond game. "We don't know too much about (Pittsburgh). I do know they have some big guys down low. It's going to be another challenge. We're just going to go and get some rest and comeback here on Sunday."
Saturday, however, the Badgers were back at the Bradley Center for a short practice in preparation for three seed Pittsburgh. The Panthers escaped a dismal offensive performance, shooting just 29.5 percent from the field, to defeat 14th-seeded Central Florida, 53-44, Friday.
"We'd like to make every shot, but sometimes that doesn't happen," first-year Pittsburgh head coach Jamie Dixon said. "We took pretty good shots, I thought we shot the ball and executed pretty well in the second half, but we're always looking to improve in every aspect of our game."
The Panthers were able to outmuscle the Golden Knights under the boards behind 16 rebounds from freshman phenom Chris Taft. Defensively, Pittsburgh alternated man and zone defensive schemes to limit Central Florida's offensive efficiency, forcing them to commit 14 turnovers while recording eight steals.
"I think once you get to this time of year, games become less high scoring and I think that's a normal occurrence," Dixon said Saturday. "Obviously we have had better offense games. Down the stretch last night we executed and did what we wanted to do and did a good job on the offensive end."
Senior guard Julius Page cited his team's ability to play defense, which has held opponents to an average 56.3 points per game, as a major factor it Pittsburgh's success this season.
"When our offensive game is not working we can count on our defense to keep us in the game until we knock down a couple shots," Page said.
Pitt's defensive tenacity echoes that of Richmond, but the Panthers boast an imposing front line that attacks the glass and makes things difficult for opposing teams to get consistent production down low. They also are adept at preventing guards from slashing to the hoop.
"Pittsburgh's got a great inside game; they're got a bunch of big guys," UW forward Mike Wilkinson said. "They play real physical. We figure if we make them take tough shots, it they're jump shots or post up moves, (forcing them to take) tough shots makes it harder."
Wisconsin hopes to get 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Andreas Helmigk back Sunday after the Austrian native was forced to sit out versus Richmond with a back injury. Helmigk did practice Saturday with the rest of the UW team.
The Badgers know, in facing a team that lost only four games this season by a combined ten points, two of which were in overtime, they cannot afford to start slowly like they did against Richmond.
"The aggressiveness has to be the same as it was in the second half (against Richmond)," Harris said.
Wisconsin's players gave the raucous Bradley Center crowd, which was dressed almost completely in red, credit for assisting the team's second-half turnaround.
"I think it's definitely an advantage playing here," Wilkinson said. "The crowd was into it most of the game, especially in the second half. They definitely helped us get the intensity up to a higher level. It's just great playing in front of your fans."
On the other hand, Julius Page and his teammates understood a matchup with Wisconsin would have a road game feel well before making the trip to Milwaukee.
"We knew coming in here we had a chance to play Wisconsin, only a couple miles away from where they're from, so it's not going to make a difference," Page said. "We played a lot of tough teams. A road game is a road game regardless of who you play. We have to come out and be ready and match their intensity."