Worgull: Rekindling the Red Flame

After a setback in Bloomington, the Badgers have reignited the flame and are ready to start terrorizing the opposition in the second half.

MADISON – Nothing pleases a bunch of hunters like a wounded cat.

After their first loss in over two months, Wisconsin couldn't have picked a better team to start a new winning streak against than those pesky Wildcats.

Losers of seven of their last eight and dead last in conference, the Badgers, much like they usually do, took care of business at home with a 17-point victory to stay in first place in the conference.

Just like after the lost to Missouri State, the Badgers built a big lead, shot near 50 percent from the floor and had three players scored in double figures to get back in the win column. More importantly, the results after the loss was what thrust Wisconsin into the national spotlight, reeling off 17 consecutive wins over the next two months.

If Wisconsin can accomplish that feat again, number 17 would win them the national title and yes, the players are aware of those similarities.

"Hopefully, we have another 17 games left," senior Kammron Taylor said. "But our focus is on the next game and that's Penn State."

What? No proclamation? No guarantee? What about the playoffs?

Bo Ryan, much like Jim Mora and to the chagrin of Allen Iverson, doesn't want to talk about the playoffs, he just wants to talk about practice … and the next game.

Ryan has Wisconsin so focused on the present and not the future or the past that even a floor full of Hoosier fans had little after effect on the elder Badgers.

"A lot of teams would die to be in our position," Taylor said after losing to the Hoosiers on Wednesday. "We're not going to dwell on it. A 17-game win streak is not going to win us a Big Ten title. That's our focus right now."

That focus from Taylor and Tucker were evident from the opening tip. Tucker continued his crusade for national player of the year honors by having another solid shooting performance, making 7-for-15 from the floor and getting to the free throw line. The end result parlayed into his third straight 20-point game.

After catching fire from three-point range late in the second half on Wednesday, Taylor continued making long-range shots, making three of his six perimeter attempts.

In addition to the accustomed alley-oop slam by Tucker from Taylor, the Badger seniors continued to be Wisconsin's calming influence on the floor.

"They were a settling factor for the other guys," Ryan said. "They made [us] pretty efficient on offense and were solid defensively."

"We shot the ball with confidence and that's one of the things we have to continue to do," Tucker added. "We beat ourselves the first game with Northwestern because we were turning the ball over and we weren't going to do that today."

After their first conference loss, the Badgers weren't going to let anything beat them today. Even so, Ryan was adamant that the words "Indiana" and "loss" were not used once in preparation for today's game.

"I don't know anything about the [Indiana] loss because it never entered into the [focus]," Ryan said. "Other than going over some things we did or didn't do, it was all about Northwestern and now it's about Penn State and the weight room on Monday."

With Northwestern dispelled, the Badgers enter into the cupcake portion of their conference schedule. The next four games - at Penn State, Iowa, at Minnesota, Penn State - are against teams from the bottom half of the Big Ten, which gives Wisconsin plenty of time to rev up their engines for their two-game trip to East Lansing and Columbus.

Even though their win streak was snapped and their number two ranking gone for the time being, the loss potentially did something far better for Wisconsin, reigniting their fire and making them hungry again.

"Some losses are key and that was a key loss for us entering the second half of the Big Ten," Tucker said. "Just like we lost to Missouri State, we came back out and were so aggressive and attacked hard every game. We haven't lost in two months so, we're ready to start from the get go.

"We have that hunger back, we were ready to go from the start and we don't want to lose again."

Just whatever you do, don't talk about playoffs …

Benjamin Worgull is the senior columnist for Badger Nation and the men's hockey writer for the Badger Herald. Feel free to contact him or send him a question to be published in a mailbag session at bworgull@badgerherald.com

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