On the court and off it, the team had its fair share of problems, but in the end the Badgers wrapped up their third consecutive 20-win season—a statistic not only recognizing the consistency of the Wisconsin program but even more so the effort of this year's team.
"Considering what we had to replace and some of the other things we went through this year, to get 20 wins in this league is a real good accomplishment," assistant coach Gary Close said.
Sophomore guard Kammron Taylor agrees.
"We did a great job," Taylor said. "A lot of people out there and a lot of media out there didn't think we were going to be able to get to 20 wins. This team, we came together. I think we're only one game behind from what we were last year going into the Big Ten tournament. For the guys that we lost, a lot of guys stepped up this year."
Taylor is unquestionably one of the players who stepped up. Following the matriculation of Devin Harris to the NBA and Boo Wade's departure from the team for personal reasons, the Badger backcourt had major question marks entering the season.
But Taylor proved to be an immediate answer. Propelled into the limelight, Taylor put his opportunity to good use and gained some valuable playing experience in the process.
However, the most common knock on Taylor and many of the Badgers this season has been their lack of experience.
Nonetheless, the team's confidence has never wavered and reaching the 20-win mark is not only no surprise to the Badgers but a real testament to what this year's team has had to overcome.
"It's really no shock to us, only to other people," Taylor said. "We don't really talk about it in the locker room. We always thought we could get to 20 wins, so we never really thought about it."
Echoing Taylor's sentiments, Close said he was proud for not only the way the team finished the season to get to the 20-win plateau but also how they battled through the adversities they faced all year long.
"Like any team, we had some experience problems that we had to get through and some injury problems with ‘Do' [Alando Tucker] and Zach [Morley]," Close said. "But we just kind of found a way to get 20 wins and finish third."
For sophomore Alando Tucker, who battled through a nagging foot injury he suffered in a practice in January, winning 20 games is gratifying to some degree. But he said the team cannot be satisfied yet with their prior accomplishments.
"The injuries and the off court things we dealt with, those are things where if we look back we can say we fought through all that and look at where we are at right now, 20-7—we've had a pretty good season so far," Tucker said. "At this point though, 20 wins means nothing. Because if we go out and lose our next couple games, it's not really going to mean anything. It's a good accomplishment and it's shown how hard we've been working. To get 20 wins and go through the things we've gone through as a team, that's hard. Now, 20 wins don't matter. It's a matter of survival."
Survival is the name of the game now and first up in the win-or-go home part of the season is the conference tournament at the United Center here. The Badgers hold the third seed courtesy of their third place finish in the conference regular season standings—not a bad place to be considering the outstanding play of both Illinois and Michigan State during the season.
For Wisconsin to attain their second conference tournament crown in as many years, they may need to get through both the Spartans and Illini.
In what will be the third and final meeting between the two teams this season, there is no doubt both squads know what to expect from the other. From the Badgers standpoint, the Buckeyes are built inside-out and that means a whole lot of junior Terrance Dials—a challenge Wisconsin is prepared for.
"We're going to have to play a solid five-man defense regardless," Tucker said. "With Dials from Ohio State, he's a beast when he gets the ball in the post. They feed him and let him go to work, but he's a smart player and will get the other guys involved if things are going his way. Either way it goes, we are going to have to help and recover."
Similarly, Ohio State knows the Badgers will go early and often to their work horses down low, Tucker and senior Mike Wilkinson. But when playing Wisconsin, it is more than just those two capable of getting the job done.
"I've said this all year, they're a great basketball team," Matta said Thursday, following his team's win over Penn State. "They're sound, as I said, you have to make some shots against them."
And defensively the Buckeyes know it will be just as tough. But for Dials, who tallied just six points and nine rebounds in the first round win, it comes down to picking your poison.
"They're great offensive players, so when they get the ball it's going to be tough to stop them," Dials said. "What you have to do is try to limit their touches and make other people on the team beat you."