Wisconsin welcomes Waves

Badgers play first of six straight games at home Saturday

After pushing Wake Forest — one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's powerhouses — to the brink in a raucous, hostile arena, the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team (4-1) returns to the comforts of home Saturday as they host the Pepperdine Waves (1-3) of the West Coast Conference.

Last year, Pepperdine dealt Wisconsin its first of eight losses during the 2004-05 season when they beat the Badgers by 14 in Malibu. However, much like the Badgers, Pepperdine has a whole new look to their starting lineup as the Waves lost three key starters from last year's club.

Overall, Pepperdine lost four seniors and junior guard Alex Acker left early for the NBA. Without Acker (16.6 points per game), forward Yakhouba Diawara (14.0 points per game) and Glen McGowan (19.2 points per game), Pepperdine has to replace their top three scorers, rebounders and over 3,000 minutes on the court. Not surprisingly, Pepperdine had struggled to find some rhythm thus far. The Waves' sole victory in four tries was a 79-76 decision over UC Irvine.

In order to help fill the scoring void, the Waves have relied on freshman Michael Gerrity and lone senior starter Tashann Forehan-Kelly to carry the void left by the talented trio. Both players are averaging more than 30 minutes and are the only two players averaging double figure scoring, at 17.3 and 12.3 points per game, respectively.

So far this season, the fate of the Waves rests on how these two players perform. In Pepperdine's only win, Gerrity and Forehan-Kelly both had career highs, with 25 and 22 points, respectively. In their last game at Dayton however, the duo combined for only 13 points on 3 of 12 shooting in an 18-point loss.

The Waves and Badgers are similar in the respect that each team had to replace several starters and is relying on young players to fill key roles. Despite this, Pepperdine still plays the same west coast style of basketball that gave the Badgers fits last season.

"They can play and they proved that last year, even though they had an up-and-down season," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "But there were nights where they looked really good and then nights where the other team looked a little better. For whatever the reason is, it happens and your record is what it is. … We know they can play and they aren't coming here for anything other then trying to get it done for their side."

"Obviously, they are a different team," junior forward Alando Tucker said. "Like us, they lost four critical guys, but their style is going to be the same. They're going to come in up-tempo, shoot shots and hope to get offensive rebounds and put-backs.

"Last year, they just out-worked us and that's one thing we never like to admit. They out-rebounded us and were more aggressive in the paint getting rebounds and that's uncharacteristic of Wisconsin basketball. We're playing in front of our fans and we can't let them come in here and (out-)rebound us and get the loose balls."

After playing four of their first five games away from the Kohl Center, Wisconsin will stay home for the next six contests, up until a game at Pittsburgh Dec. 31. The Badgers have won 21 consecutive non-conference home games.

"We definitely want to get some good wins [during this stretch] and build some confidence at home," Tucker said. "The confidence we take in these next six games is confidence we can use on the road.

"The more we play, the more things we get done. I think we are starting to understand each other and build on the chemistry that we have started on this year. These games at home are important for us to develop that chemistry, come together as a team, and to win games to prepare us for the Big Ten."

Despite losing to the Demon Deacons in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the Badgers seemed to answer a lot of question marks about the depth and quality of their young players. In what was their first true road test of the young season, four Badgers reached double figures and first-year starter Brian Butch hauled in a double double in the losing effort.

According to the players, it was a game that will build a lot of character and maturity when the Badgers embark on the difficult Big Ten schedule.

"I thought it was good for us to have that type of game under our belt," sophomore guard Michael Flowers said. "It was an up-tempo game and I felt we handled it really well. We go out there and try to play Wisconsin basketball and not worry about comparing us to other teams. We just like going out there, executing our game plan and trying to get a win."

For the veterans on the Badgers, the loss can only be looked at in a positive fashion. Under head coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers are 16-0 in home games following a loss on the road, with nine of those victories coming by double-digit margins.

According to Tucker, the mistakes you learn from are going to be beneficial for the team as the season wears on.

"The loss shows that we are mature," Tucker said. "It's early. It's always good for a young team, especially, to take a tough loss that early.

"In regards to what we learned, we watched film and learned from a lot of mistakes. The younger guys realize that we have to crack down when the game is on the line. The main thing is when you are playing on the road; you need to control the tempo and the crowd. These are the kind of things we will learn from the loss.

"The loss wasn't so much a bad one as long as you take something from it. … We're getting it down and going to be dangerous. You can't complain about that."

What: Pepperdine (1-3) at Wisconsin (4-1)
When: Saturday, Dec. 3; 1 p.m.
Site: Kohl Center (17,142) Madison, Wis.
Broadcast: The game can be heard live on the radio on 1310 AM WIBA with Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas.
Series notes: Pepperdine leads the all-time series 2-1, including a 75-61 win in Malibu last season. Wisconsin won the only meeting between the two clubs in Madison, 57-51, on Dec. 12, 1998. Wisconsin is 8-4 all-time against teams currently in the West Coast Conference.

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