Badgers prepare for inside presence

Penn State's Aaron Johnson leads the Big Ten in rebounding

It is from one end of the conference to the other for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team as it heads to State College, Pa. this weekend for its lone match up with Penn State this season.

Four days after playing the top team in the conference in front of a sell-out home crowd, the Badgers will play one of the Big Ten's bottom feeders.

Penn State is in tenth place with a 1-5 record in conference play, but do not think for a second Wisconsin will look past the Nittany Lions.

"There won't be any overlooking or any lack of preparation on our part," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "We'll definitely be ready. Penn State is a young team that's playing a lot of young guys—some freshmen and sophomores. [Head] Coach [Ed] DeChellis has done a good job of jump-starting their program with younger guys. At times they've played really well and at times they haven't — very characteristic of a young team."

With the inconsistencies and a frustrating record, Penn State enters the game not only a huge underdog but also a team with not a lot to lose. The combination of talent and little expectation is something the Badgers are ready for and the reason why Penn State will be a dangerous team.

"They're loose and getting better," head coach Bo Ryan said. "Young guys who are hungry and want to play."

The most dangerous of Penn State's players is junior forward Aaron Johnson, the leading rebounder in the Big Ten. Averaging 13.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest, Johnson is not the most gifted athlete in the conference, but is unquestionably one of the hardest working.

"He's a throwback to a guy who realizes that he can't jump that high yet he gets to basketballs because he takes up space, has good footwork and he works hard," Ryan said. "There is always room for those guys in this game."

UW senior forward Mike Wilkinson agrees. Johnson gives 100 percent all the time and makes an impact on the game.

"He just finds ways to get things done," Wilkinson said. "He may not be the flashiest, or make everything look smooth, but he finds a way to get a done. He's got a pretty good-sized body, but the way he uses it is what makes him so good. He knows how to use it, knows how to get the most out of his positioning."

Offensively, Johnson is consistent and a stable contributor, but his ability to dominate the game comes primarily from his effort on the glass.

This season, Johnson has had three 20-rebound performances while also adding eight double-doubles. The success is due in large part because to his determination and work ethic. He applies this work ethic on both ends of the court, as he is the conference leader in offensive (4.3) and defensive (6.2) rebounds.

"His work ethic is second to none," Gard said. "He was a non-scholar walk-on player, so for him to be able to go from walk-on to develop himself into the leading rebounder in the conference, he plays the game like you'd like have a lot of people play. Maybe he doesn't jump the highest, but he uses his positioning and just knows how to play. He's always in the right spot, understands angles to the rim, so he's a handful."

Johnson's experience is much of the reason he is the main go-to guy for the young Nittany Lions squad—offensively, defensively and even with the intangibles. The junior leads his team in field goals attempted, field goals made, free throws, points and steals.

"He definitely gets his touches and he works to get his touches too," Gard said. "If you take something away, he's good enough to counter, come back and get a better angle. He does a good job at continuing to work."

Who: Wisconsin (4-2 Big Ten, 12-4 overall) at Penn State (1-5, 7-12)
When: Saturday, Jan. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Bryce Jordan Center (15,261)
Broadcasts: The game will be televised live by ESPN Plus and can also be heard on the Wisconsin Radio Network.
Series Notes: This is the 23rd meeting between the two schools. Wisconsin holds a 14-8 edge in the series, however the home team has won each of the last eight meetings.

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