Worgull: Whistling an Off-Beat Tune

Struggling to find a rhythm and an offensive flow against the two worst teams in the Big Ten, the No.11 Wisconsin Badgers, with two tough games ahead, have a bad tune stuck in their head that needs to be expunged.

MADISON – It has happened to the best of us from time to time.

Listening to the radio driving home from work or watching television on the couch, that catchy, sometimes annoying, jingle comes over the airwaves and, without knowing it, that tune is engraved into your brain for days.

You could be parked at a red light and you start singing the Oscar Meyer wiener song without warning or a moments notice.

Just like the average person in the car, over the last four days, the Badgers have been stuck at the red light and whistling a tune with poor tempo.

In case you missed Saturday's win against Northwestern, No.11 Wisconsin's 64-61 victory over struggling Michigan served as a carbon copy and a reminder of just how difficult, and ugly, it is to win in the Big Ten.

It also served as a reminder that against better competition, the Badgers might not be as fortunate to leave the arena as winners.

Wisconsin basketball prides itself on rebounding and with rebounding comes second-chance points. While the Badgers have done their work on the glass this season, holding a plus-nine margin in that department and scoring 130 more second-chance points than their opponent, Northwestern proved Saturday to be more physical than the taller, experience Badgers, scoring 26 points inside the post.

While Saturday's game could be written off as a fluke against an unfamiliar offense and defense to Wisconsin, Michigan proved that the fluke might soon start to become a trend.

Michigan out rebounded Wisconsin 36-24, pummeled UW in the offense rebounding category 20-9, out second chanced them 22-14 and were flat out more physical to the basketball then UW throughout.

"The energy level that has to be there, it comes and goes with us," Michigan head coach John Beilein said. "You can create energy just by making that extra play. Energy gets you stuff like offensive rebounds. There is no technique, there's energy there … From beginning to end, we had a tremendous amount of energy."

Because of all this, the 5-13 Wolverines were down a single point with the 11th-ranked team in the country with one minute left in an arena where Big Ten teams simply don't win.

If it wasn't for a heads up play by junior Joe Krabbenhoft, calling a time out after corralling a loose ball underneath the Michigan basket, and a clutch three-point basket by Marcus Landry, the Badgers may not have finished Tuesday night where they started Tuesday morning - on top of the conference.

"They are very long, aggressive and they get on the boards really good," said junior Marcus Landry about the stark disparity in rebounding. "They were a lot of long rebounds and things like that. We just have got to do a better job as a team. It should never come to us being out rebounded by 11 rebounds. It is ridiculous on our part. As a team, we know we are better than that and we can't let that happen again.

"We should be very surprised we won this game with the outcome the way we rebounded," he added. "But we'll get what we can take to win the game."

It didn't look that way from the start, as Wisconsin looked to be firmly in control early, breaking open a 20-10 advantage on the heels of eight points from senior Michael Flowers.

But Michigan, losers of seven of its last eight games, went on a 9-2 run to cut into the Wisconsin lead and giving UW a 28-24 halftime lead.

"We've had those situations – Illinois and Purdue – where we went in at halftime and have been down double digits and it is hard to fight back," Beilein said. "Only being down four, they really believed they could win the game."

After handling the Wolverines in Ann Arbor 20 days ago, head coach Bo Ryan knows that the second time through the gauntlet is always tougher than the first.

"We figured that there were going to be a lot of games like this that are going to come down to the last three, four minutes," Ryan said. "I think I said that months ago (and) I am not changing my mind. We expected it to be a two, three possession game."

Tuesday night was not all doom and gloom, however, as Wisconsin displayed some positives against the Wolverines.

Much like Northwestern, Michigan employed a 1-3-1 defense zone in hopes of disrupting Wisconsin's offensive tempo. Although forcing five first-half turnovers, Wisconsin found itself utilizing better ball movement in the first half, registering six assists in the first half and 11 for the game.

Sophomore Trevon Hughes also played better against the 1-3-1 zone. After failing to make a field goal against Northwestern, Hughes went 5-for-9 for 12 points against Michigan and was able to find more space when he drove into the lane.

"Michigan's zone wasn't as tight (and) I couldn't penetrate as much against Northwestern," Hughes said. "This is the second time Michigan has played us and we learned their defense and we got better looks from it. Obviously, the second time around was a little easier for us."

Wisconsin also showed its poise coming down the stretch. With Michigan scoring points on five of seven possessions heading down the stretch, the Badgers answered the Wolverines with solid looks, good spacing and turning the ball over only twice in the final four minutes.

"I thought spacing was good and our decisions were good," Ryan said. "The only real turnover we had the last couple minutes was when Marcus did not secure that loose ball. That is very good."

With Wisconsin's schedule taking the Badgers to Purdue, a place UW has won just one since 1972, and returning home against first-place Indiana, Wisconsin expects to find itself in a grind once again.

Hopefully, UW will whistle a much more charismatic tune for a full 40 minutes in the games to come. Otherwise instead of being in the driver's seat in the Big Ten conference, they'll be in the passenger seat of the wiener mobile.


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