"These games will show us where we are as a team," Tucker said three weeks ago.
Exactly 21 days have passed since Tucker's statement and what has transpired during that time has given Badger fans an extra dose of holiday cheer.
People inside the Wisconsin border knew that this Badger squad was one of the better Wisconsin teams in the school's history. But after the Badgers dispatched Winthrop, No. 17 Marquette, UWM, No.2 Pittsburgh and Pacific, the Badgers have begun to burst onto the national scene.
"We've grown so much over this course of time," Tucker said. "Everything we do, on and off the court and how we are communicating, is so comfortable right now. We really have grown [as a team]."
While Wisconsin has seen their national ranking jump into the top five, Tucker has seen his stock rise in conversation about the Naismith and Wooden Awards. During this past five-game stretch, Tucker has led the Badgers in scoring every game but tonight's against Pacific. What is arguably more impressive is that the bigger the stage, the bigger Tucker plays.
With Wisconsin looking for their first win at Marquette since 2000, Tucker scored 28 points on 13-for-22 shooting in the Badgers four-point win. One week later, Tucker poured in 32 points, including 20 in the first half, in a 14-point shellacking of No.2 Pittsburgh. Overall, Tucker averaged 23.2 points in the five games and, along with his fellow senior leaders, has given the Badgers a flawless record against fellow tournament competitors.
"I want to continue to be a leader [along with] Kammron [Taylor and] Jason Chappell," Tucker said. "We have to be the guys that the rest of the team looks up to and I want to keep that strong. I want to make sure that every time I step on the practice court and lace up for games, I am ready to go because I want to be the guy that the rest of my teammates can count on."
More Travel Woes
With Denver's airport being snowed in, Pacific, much like Florida International, experienced difficulty making their way toward the Midwest. Although they didn't lose their luggage, the delayed flights and the early arrival time into Madison for Pacific did cause an unnecessary problem for head coach Bob Thomason and the Tigers.
"They cancelled the two flights to Denver before ours and they cancelled the one after our flight," Thomason said. "Maybe the governor called and told them not to cancel that one because Pacific isn't very good right now. It was tough. We got here at one in the morning, but there's no excuse about that."
Still, Ryan wasn't planning on taking lightly one of the most successful programs in California over the past several years.
"I don't know how I can argue with the results, but watching [Pacific] on tape, they were playing close games," Ryan said. "Pacific is still the winningest program in California in the last five years. They know how to win games, they're going to be tough in their league, but they are a really young team."
It was announced on Friday that redshirt freshman Mickey Perry had requested and been granted his official release from the men's basketball team and the University of Wisconsin. Perry red shirted last season and appeared in seven games this year for the Badgers. He played a total of 23 minutes and scored seven points. His best performance was against Southern when he scored five points and had two rebounds in nine minutes on the floor.
"It's tough because he was with us for the two years," Taylor said. "We got a chance to grow like a family. It definitely hurts but you have to move on. We wish nothing but the best for Mickey. He's a good player and wherever he goes, he's going to help the program."
With Perry transferring, a scholarship becomes available that can be used on next season's recruiting class. Ryan wouldn't comment on whether is would be used on a new recruit or given to a walk-on.
Wisconsin wraps up the home portion of their non-conference schedule when the Badgers host the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs (2-8) on Wednesday, December 27. Losers of three of their last four, including a 29-point setback at Georgia, Gardner-Webb is lead by the 12.1 points per game from senior Chris Gash.
This will be the first meeting between the two schools.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!