For the second-straight year and the third time in the five-year history of the Challenge, Wisconsin and Maryland will meet in the inter-conference showdown, but for the first time since 1931, the Terrapins will be in Madison for the match-up.
If history has anything to do with it, one can expect nothing less than another nail-biting, bruising battle between the two squads, as both previous games in the Challenge went into overtime. Last year, the Badgers went into College Park and lost a tough contest, 73-67, a game UW felt they let slip out of their hands.
"That game last year, I try to block it out … it hurt me a lot, even though I wasn't playing last year, but that was just a game that slipped away," sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "This year we are going to come back and try to get a victory."
For the Badgers to get their first victory over Maryland since 2000, they will first need to worry about themselves before they get concerned about the opponent. Following UW's debacle Saturday at Pepperdine, the Badgers feel they'll need to get back to the basics in preparation for the fundamentally sound and athletic bunch from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"Athletic. They're athletic players," sophomore forward Alando Tucker said. "They like to shoot the passing lanes and they can read the passes well. We have to be tight with the ball. That's one thing we didn't do so well against Pepperdine. We let the guys shoot the passing lanes and steal a couple passes and deflect passes and Maryland thrives off that. If we let Maryland get going early and let them get a couple steals, they'll feed off of that and make it a real tough game."
On the year, the Terrapins are averaging 13.7 steals and forcing 18.3 turnovers per game. This does not bode well for a Badger team struggling to maintain possessions and also showing a tendency, uncharacteristic of a Bo Ryan coached team, to cough up the ball. Thus far this year, the Badgers are committing over 16 turnovers per game, including 22 versus Pepperdine last weekend.
For senior forward Mike Wilkinson, who committed seven turnovers himself in the team's first loss of the year, the remedy is simple.
"We definitely need to get back to the basics a little bit," Wilkinson said. "Just taking care of the ball, making hard cuts, you know, the things that have made us successful over the last couple of years. We're a different team, different players, we just have to get back to fundamentals and start from there."
While continuity is obviously a problem for the young and inexperienced Badger squad, the Terrapins have the luxury of returning four starters and all but one letterwinner from a 2003-04 squad that captured the 2004 ACC Tournament title. Coach Gary Williams brings a deep and athletic group to the Kohl Center, led by junior guard John Gilchrist and junior forward Nik Caner-Medley.
Even though Caner-Medley paces Maryland with 16.0 points per game, Gilchrist is the heart and soul of this year's squad. Averaging 13.7 points per game, Gilchrist is the catalyst of the offense and much of the reason why Maryland boasts five players averaging double-digits in scoring on the year. Combined with his point total, Gilchrist also adds seven assists and 6.3 rebounds per contest—a handful for any opposing team to handle.
As a group, the Terrapins are averaging 90 points per game, in part because the team is shooting 45.9 percent from the field, 34.0 percent from beyond the arc and 78.5 percent from the charity stripe.
"They got a lot of athleticism and a great mix of some great big guys and perimeter guys," Wilkinson said. "They get points any way they can. They get points of the press, they get points off the rebound and they are a complete team. You just can't give them anything easy."
Defensively, unlike the Terps who are holding opposing teams to 34 percent shooing from the field and less than 30 percent shooting from beyond the arc, the Badgers have been giving up easy points—part of the reason opponents are shooting nearly 44 percent from the field and 34 percent from downtown on them.
But for Maryland, its x-factor defensively this season has been its shot blocking. A testament to the depth and athleticism on the Terrapins roster, 11 players on the team have tallied at least one rejection. Led by sophomore Ekene Ibekwe's 2.3 blocks per game, the group is averaging nine blocks per contest. In the 2002-03 season, Maryland finished third nationally in blocks, in 2003-04 it finished second and with the pace it is on already this year, No. 1 in blocks is certainly possible.
With the Badgers struggling to find an identity on the court, this season, a match-up versus Maryland on their home court will go a long way in helping push UW in the right direction to finish out the non-conference schedule.
Considering the Badgers are 11-0 in home games following road losses under Ryan, and the team's 30-game home winning streak will also be on the line, the tension in the air will be similar to a conference game.
"I think the town, the city, the fans are all prepared and ready. We're all ready," Tucker said. "They're going to be on our side and that'll help us out a lot. For some of the newer guys, I know they feel a little more comfortable at home right now, so its just nice to be at home for a game like this because we need positive minutes out of everybody."
What: University of Maryland (3-0) at Wisconsin (2-1)
When: Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2004, 8:35 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center (17,142), Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Televised nationally on ESPN2 and broadcasted on the radio on the 46-city Wisconsin Radio Network
Series Notes: This will be the sixth meeting between the two teams. UW leads the series 3-2. It will also be the third time the two schools are meeting in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.