Men's hoops: Badgers look to bounce back

Non-conference loss in rearview mirror with Big Ten play revving up again

MADISON—The Badgers cannot possibly have another shooting performance like Saturday's, can they? Perhaps the key to tonight's Wisconsin men's basketball game against visiting Penn State is whether the Badgers use their upset loss to North Dakota State as motivation—or cleave it from their minds entirely—or let it rattle around in their heads like so many in-and-outs in a 22 percent shooting game.

"That loss, it left a taste in our mouth but we've got to spit that out and get ready for our next opponent," guard Michael Flowers said.

Probably to its benefit, Wisconsin returns to Big Ten play tonight. Bison defeat or no Bison defeat, the Badgers sit in first place in the league standings, a half-game up on Iowa, Indiana and Ohio State.

"We have to really try to put this behind us," said point guard Kammron Taylor, who was 6 of 24 for 19 points in the 62-55 loss to NDSU. "We can't linger on about it because it will keep affecting us. We don't want to continue to lose. We're in a great position to have a chance to fight and be at the top of the Big Ten… The older guys have to make sure we get focused and refocus the younger guys."

Meanwhile, a third of the way into the conference season the Nittany Lions are arguably the team that has most exceeded expectations. A win tonight would improve PSU to 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions have not won more than three conference games in a season since going 7-9 in 2000-01. After getting shellacked at OSU in their conference opener, the Nittany Lions have been competitive in all of their league games, including a mere four-point defeat at the hands of Iowa, and an 11-point loss to the Buckeyes at home.

"Right now they're playing their best basketball," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "So they're coming in with a heck of a lot of confidence. What our guys better do is make sure that we haven't lost any."

PSU has not won in Madison since 1995, but seeing that NDSU earned a victory here will likely give all of the Badgers' future Kohl Center opponents more confidence.

The Nittany Lions present some rather unique matchup issues on both ends of the court. Unique for the Big Ten in that PSU's tallest starter is freshman forward Jamelle Cornley, who is listed at 6-foot-6. He is joined in the Nittany Lions' frontcourt by 6-5 forward Travis Parker and 6-5 wing Geary Claxton.

The Badgers' starting lineup, in stark contrast, includes 6-10 center Jason Chappell, 6-11 forward Brian Butch and 6-5 wing Alando Tucker. At 6-7, guard Ray Nixon is taller than anyone in PSU's starting lineup.

Somehow, though, the Nittany Lions still have a positive rebounding margin, though they were abused on the boards in their loss to OSU Saturday. Cornley and Claxton are two of the Big Ten's best scorers and rebounders. Claxton is the slashing-type player that has given UW trouble at times; he is averaging 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in league play and will be a tough matchup for whoever UW puts on him.

"He's a true player," Flowers said. "He (is) their catalyst. He's what motivates their team. He's a big part of Penn State's success this year."

Cornley has to be a front-runner for league freshman of the year, averaging 16 points and 6.8 boards in conference games. He has proven mighty comfortable in the paint despite constantly giving up size underneath. That will certainly be the case against UW, where his toughness and knack for post play will run up against the Badgers' trees.

PSU can take some solace in UW's recent loss of post depth—the Badgers will not be bringing another 6-11 player off the bench, with center Greg Stiemsma out for Wednesday's game due to personal medical reasons. And the Nittany Lions do have 6-10, 245-pound freshman forward Milos Bogetic as part of their rotation off the bench.

Defensively, the Nittany Lions like to change defenses and often use an extended 1-3-1 zone in an effort to counter their lack of size. It has worked to fluster opponents from time to time, but Big Ten opponents are shooting a gaudy 50 percent against PSU. With the latter statistic in mind, perhaps this is just the opponent the Badgers need to forget about all those shaking irons from Saturday's loss.

Regardless of who is on the schedule, though, UW certainly needs to shoot better than Saturday's 16-for-72.

"A lot of it has to do with confidence out there," Flowers said. "You miss a couple of shots and you are hesitant to take the next one but we just got to keep shooting out there and just rely on your defense and just execute the gameplan."

Badger Nation prognostication: Call this one the rapture of the previously rattling rims. Expect Taylor, Alando Tucker and the rest of the Badgers to get on a roll offensively during the course of this game, as they beat back any latent demons from Saturday's upset loss.

Claxton and Cornley are fine players and PSU's entire seven-man rotation has played well on balance this season. But UW should have its share of matchup advantages in this one. The Badgers need Chappell and Butch to be assertive offensively and take advantage of the Nittany Lions' lack of height in the post.

Our pick: Wisconsin 73, Penn State 61.

What: No. 23 Wisconsin (14-4 overall, 4-1 Big Ten) v. Penn State (10-6, 2-3)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m. Central
Site: Kohl Center (17,142) in Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: Televised live on ESPN Plus. Wisconsin Radio Network will broadcast the game live.
Series notes: Wisconsin leads the all-time series 15-8, including 9-2 in games held in Madison… The Badgers have won eight straight home games versus PSU.

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