Nov. 30, 2004. 31 games have passed since that loss two years ago to Wake Forest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and another scare was coming into the Kohl Center. The mighty Maryland Terrapins had all the assets necessary to rain on Wisconsin's Kohl Center parade. They are one of the more powerful teams in the ACC (which has dominated over the Big Ten conference every year since the Challenge began), have more national recognition than the Badgers (ranked No. 12 in both polls) and are known as the more athletic team of the two.
So coming into Tuesday's match-up, Wisconsin appeared to be the underdogs despite their home court advantage. After 40 minutes of hard-fought basketball, a 69-64 outcome, and Maryland junior guard John Gilchrist falling to the ground in agony once the final horn went off, it became clear—Wisconsin was not about to give up one of the nation's longest winning streaks that easily. With the tally now at 31 games, they tie Stephen F. Austin for the longest current home winning streak in the nation.
This streak is no fluke; the Badgers obviously know a thing or two about getting things done at home. The constant Kohl Center sell-out crowd of 17,142 could have something to do with it.
"Wow," senior guard Sharif Chambliss said. "That would be the first word that comes to my mind. This was a great atmosphere here tonight…just knowing that you're going to have a team on your schedule like that. These are two great conferences. It was just awesome. I feel like this is the best environment in college basketball and just to be around this is awesome."
The Badgers needed the fan support more than anything to help them get by the Terps. After coming off an upsetting loss on the road at Pepperdine just three days ago, the crowd was there to pick Wisconsin back up and once again made it a difficult place for the opponent, no matter how good they are, to run away with a victory.
The streak could not be kept alive, though, if it were not for the players wearing the cardinal and white. Coming into this season, there were many uncertainties about how stable the team would be considering all the new faces and loss of team leader, Devin Harris. It is still too early to tell how consistent this team will be for the remainder of the season, but the Badgers were able to breathe a sigh of relief after a number of players stepped up Tuesday.
Sophomore forward Alando Tucker's 27 points did have the biggest impact on the score for the badgers but senior guard Sharif Chambliss' all-around performance was even more reassuring. Prior to Maryland, Chambliss was 1-for-9 from the field and only had three total points. This was not the same Chambliss that lead Penn State in scoring during his sophomore and junior seasons, prior to transferring to Wisconsin. He had struggled through an injury that occurred late last season.
Tuesday though, the Chambliss known at Penn State came to play for Wisconsin. He entered the game early since sophomore guard Kammron Taylor was in foul trouble. When he was in, he controlled the ball against Maryland's pressure, found the open man and went 5 of 12 .from the field for 15 points. Most importantly, he provided much-needed stability at the point guard spot. While Chambliss is still recovering from last spring's torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee but Tuesday's game could be the start of his breaking out as a Badger.
Redshirt freshman Brian Butch also made an impact coming off the bench. He did more together to get the crowd involved in the contest. Butch only put up four points but he was taking charges, grabbing boards and swatted away two big time blocks.
Unlike the Pepperdine game, Wisconsin seemed to be in control over Maryland despite the low margin of victory. Each player contributed in their own way and made sure the team not only kept the Kohl Center crowd happy but made sure they avenged their weekend loss.
"It was a statement game," Tucker said. "There was a lot of doubts out there that were a strong team that we couldn't handle the ball…it shows that we have guys that can handle the ball, we're not going to turn it over 23 times, that's rare. It was a statement game."
Within the past two years, not many teams have come close to conquering the Kohl Center. In the 31 games, only three games, including Tuesday's, were beaten by 10 points or less. Back in 2002 Big Ten rival Illinois came into the Kohl Center to try and knock the Badgers off from the top of the conference. With 0.4 seconds left in the game, Harris sunk 1 of 2 free throws to give Wisconsin the 60-59 win and clinched its second consecutive conference championship.
The second close game came thanks to in-state rival Marquette. Wisconsin was up two with 23 seconds remaining and then-Marquette forward Scott Merit gave up the Golden Eagles' possession with a traveling violation. At the 13 second mark, senior forward Steve Novak put up a three pointer to try and even the score. He came up short and after a Tucker free throw, the final score remained in Wisconsin's advantage, 63-59.
The 2004-05 season is still young. Eleven games remain on the home schedule and in NCAA basketball, anything can happen, even an end to the nation's longest home winning streak. The saying goes that home is where the heart is, but luckily for the Badgers, the home court appears to be where the victories are…31 and counting.