"It just gave guys time to recuperate," sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "I know guys are feeling a little banged up. It felt good, just to sit back and relax a little bit but now we have to get back to business."
"We were playing pretty decent basketball before the break but it gave us chance to heal some bumps and bruises and get some more people healthy," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "So hopefully we can come out and be as sharp as were before the break but a little bit smarter and learn a little bit from the break."
The Badgers must be sharp this week, as an eight-day break will quickly give way to a grueling stretch in which UW will effectively play three games in five days. The first two contests in the span are on the road and all three are against teams near the Badgers in the Big Ten standings.
"You have to grin and bear it," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "It's all TV and everything else that sets it up so we don't have any control."
After dispatching Michigan 76-50 last Wednesday evening, third-place Wisconsin (8-4 Big Ten, 17-6 overall) does not play again until traveling to face second-place Michigan State (10-2, 19-4) at 6 p.m. Thursday night. Next on tap is a road date with fifth-place Ohio State (7-6, 18-9) at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Tuesday night the Badgers return home to face fourth-place Indiana (7-5, 12-11) at 8 p.m., just 122 hours after tipping off with the Spartans.
"We are young guys," Taylor said. "We can handle it."
The Badgers, however, are not leaping headlong into the five-day gauntlet that awaits.
"It doesn't matter what happens in the rest of the games. We've just got one game to worry about right now," Wilkinson said.
Before worrying about Michigan State, though, the Badgers took time this weekend to focus intently on fundamentals. Basic skill work is a regular part of Wisconsin's practices, but its workouts Friday and Saturday included no possession work or scrimmaging – just fundamental drills.
"We took time over the weekend to try to get better in some areas and stay sharp but yet not going excessively long or doing any possessions at all," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "It was just fine tuning some things and positioning and those type of things. You are just trying to keep getting better at this point."
"We just looked at some things that we're definitely going to see and are going to be important for our success here down the road," senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "With what we did Friday and Saturday, we know that those are going to be keys for us here coming down and now we're back right into preparation…It seems like a long turnaround but there's a lot of different things coming at us. We're dealing with it."
After taking the weekend to focus on themselves, the Badgers began their preparation for Michigan State Monday.
"Just have to get re-focused starting today and get ready for our next game," Taylor said.
Wisconsin will collect some frequent flyer miles before closing the stretch with the Hoosiers March 1, in the next-to-last home game of the season.
The Badgers plan to take a chartered flight to Lansing, Mich., Wednesday evening, then will fly back to Madison late Thursday night, after the game in East Lansing. The Badgers plan on practicing in Madison Friday evening and Saturday morning, before flying to Columbus, Ohio, Saturday afternoon. After facing the Buckeyes at the Value City Arena Sunday afternoon, UW will fly back to Madison Sunday night.
Wisconsin has seen all three teams before, but they may not be entirely comforting. On Jan. 8, host Indiana made relatively easy work of the Badgers, handing UW a 74-61 defeat. Three days later, the Badgers edged Ohio State 72-66 at the Kohl Center. On Jan. 16 Michigan State led for much of the game, but Wisconsin went on an 11-0 run over the final two minutes to claim an incredible 62-59 win.
"The only way you can do it is just one game at a time," Hanson said. "Just recognizing that it's going to be a quick turnaround and then it's a matter of being able to react to that turnaround."