Men's hoops: On the road

Badgers face first Big Ten away game Tuesday night

For the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team, last week could not have been sweeter. But after convincing home wins over Big Ten contender Iowa and preseason favorite Michigan State, the Badgers had to hit the treacherous conference road for tonight's game against host Minnesota.

The Gophers have been ravaged by injuries and illness early this season, and they lost their conference opener at home versus Northwestern. But that does not negate the fact that life in the Big Ten away from home is extraordinarily difficult.

"In the Big Ten it's important to take care of home wins," UW junior forward Alando Tucker said. "Because it is very tough to win on the road. Everybody's is trying to compete and take care of the home-court advantage."

Wisconsin lost its only matchup with Minnesota last season, a 60-50 decision in Minneapolis in which Gopher star Vincent Grier scored 32 points on 14 of 21 shooting.

"In the losses that we've had, guys have had really pretty hot nights—the main guys on the (opposing) team," Tucker said. "That's what we can't let go on because when you have leaders on the team you got to try to take them out of their rhythm because they're the heart and souls of the team and if they're going, the whole team's going. So this time we're just going to stay focused, and our team defense, I think, is a lot better."

Grier will play for the just the seventh time this season due to injury. He is averaging 18.0 points per game. Partly as a result of Grier's extended absence, the four other Gopher starters also average in double figures, led by guard Maurice Hargrow's 16.1 points per game and forward Dan Coleman's 12.4

Last season's game was a homecoming for Minneapolis native Kammron Taylor. The UW point guard struggled, scoring seven points on 2 of 13 shooting, with four turnovers.

"Last year I think I was a bit too excited (in front of) my whole family friends," Taylor said. "I think I tried to go out there and do too much… I think last year was a good learning experience for me. I know what to do this year. I can't be too excited because, you know, it's just another game."

Tucker said beating Iowa and Michigan State at the Kohl Center bodes well for the road matchup tonight.

"I think that's good for our confidence on the road and going against a tough Minnesota team," Tucker said. "We went up there last year and it was some things that didn't go our way. We didn't play our game, but I think this team is focused. We are a lot more focused now. We know what we have to do from some of the games that went on in the past."

What: No. 21 Wisconsin (12-2 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) at Minnesota (9-3, 0-1)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 10 at 6 p.m. Central
Site: Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minn.
Broadcasts: ESPN will televise the game live; the Wisconsin Radio Network with broadcast it live.
Series notes: Minnesota leads the all-time series 97-82, including 65-27 at home…. UW beat the Gophers seven consecutive times before a 60-50 loss at Williams Arena a year ago.

Badger Nation prognostication: Minnesota is a good basketball team with legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations, but the team has been decimated by injuries and illness. The Gophers might get forward J'son Stamper back tonight, but the team is still far from 100 percent health-wise, putting the Gophers at a serious disadvantage versus a very deep Wisconsin team.

Minnesota, though, will be playing with a sense of the utmost urgency—opening the conference season 0-2 after a pair of home games would place the Gophers in dire straits. They need to win this game, but Wisconsin might be too good this time around.

Our pick: Wisconsin 68, Minnesota 64.

Noteable: DeAaron Williams, who is officially on a temporary leave of absence from the Wisconsin basketball team, has enrolled at Illinois Central College, according to Williams reportedly intends to transfer to Bradley prior to the 2007-08 season.

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