Will Nixon play? Ask his alter ego

Wisconsin senior guard returned to practice Thursday and expects to play against Arizona Friday

PHILADELPHIA — Ray Nixon is squirming about the locker room floor and sculpting his face into a new persona — the impressionist that he is. It is not his ankle that has sent him to the ground, however. Ready to play on Friday against Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Nixon is on the carpet having a good time.

"It's the tournament baby!" Nixon exclaims in his normal voice when finally breaking from character. "You've got to lighten up."

Alando Tucker just shakes his head at his roommate's antics. Back in practice on Monday, Tucker may have been shaking his head for an entirely different reason. Nixon had rolled an ankle and suddenly the already shortened Badger rotation looked like it might be in desperate need of depth at guard.

But after staying out of practice and working with the training staff to heal his sprain, the Badgers' lone senior took part in a team practice Thursday at the Wachovia Center, lightly running on his foot for the first time since the injury.

Nixon had been working on a stationary bike and doing some on-court exercises to prepare for a return to full-speed this weekend. The Badgers will need him as a long-range threat and a defender if they hope to make it to Minneapolis. Nixon said it will take plenty more than a turned ankle to keep him from playing.

"If I was paralyzed," Nixon said, asked what would keep him out. "Other than that I'm going to give it a run."

With that spirit, the Badgers looked alive and loose after arriving to the arena on Thursday. Nixon, elevating his sometimes quiet voice to that of a preacher's likeness, entertained a small congregation of Badger youngsters in the corner with Tucker looking on.

Joe Krabbenhoft started singing off-key in the ear of teammate Devin Barry, who chuckled at his fellow freshman. Even the often stoic Kevin Gullikson, who has come to life for the Badgers in recent weeks, sits slouched against the wall with a wide smile at Nixon rolling about.

"When he's like that, I can't sleep," Tucker said of Nixon's amateur stand-up (or in this case lie-down). "He doesn't stop."

Elsewhere, some other players poised for their first serious NCAA Tournament time are concentrating on the moment. Jason Chappell, sick last weekend in Indianapolis, says he is feeling better and is trying to get focused and not let the media hype get to him.

Sophomore Michael Flowers is the quietest of the group, leaning head-back and browsing through his MP3 player, relaxing his mind between a pair of black Sony headphones.

"It's definitely something to cherish," Flowers said. "But we're on a business trip, so we've got to come out here and take care of business."

The entire team certainly knows that they will only get one more shot at this particular business deal. They are not taking the weekend lightly. But as Tucker stressed all week, the Badgers need to be careful not to tighten up. Their recent shooting woes might be a result of doing so, he thinks.

"I think the main thing is relaxing," Tucker said. "Because the last four (losses in five games), from what I've seen and what I've played in…I think we were rushing things."

In the traditionally loose Thursday walk-through, the team certainly looked relaxed, buoyed by that return of their only graduating player.

Wisconsin took to the court first, as every team gets time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The Badgers arrived to their downtown hotel shortly before 9 p.m. last night and have enjoyed every moment of the experience so far — especially with Bo Ryan celebrating his return home, which Kammron Taylor says has caused Ryan to smile more than he has all year.

Whether the shots can follow will be evident on Friday. But as the clock ran out on practice and the team needed to end on a made half-court shot, Brian Butch stepped up first and knocked it down from just over the line. The team ran yelling and smiling into its locker room.

When the Badgers leave the floor tomorrow, they hope to feel the same.

Matt Lewis, a frequent contributor to Badger Nation, is also keeping nightly blogs and features at creative sports writing site TheHeptagon.com.

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