After the Badgers (7-2) latest nail-biting victory, a 60-58 decision over Idaho State on Tuesday night, the Badgers improved to 17-4 (.810) overall in games decided by three points or less.
Push that stat farther and Wisconsin has won its last six games when the game-winning shot occurred in the final seconds, including three winners when the clock struck zero.
"I've been in a few of those games since I have been here and it comes down to knocking down the free throws at the end of the game," said senior Marcus Landry. "As long as we keep doing that, we're going to be able to handle crunch time. You just have to play and have that mentality during that time that you are going to succeed."
In traditional Bo Ryan fashion, Wisconsin has been a staple at the free throw line. For the third consecutive season, the Badgers have made more free throws (133-of-191) than their opponents have attempted (87-for-125).
The Badgers have accomplished that feet in seven of nine games this year. Ironically, the only two games were they faltered were there only two losses, lessons that should pay off down the line.
"Nobody blows everybody out, so there's going to be different situations that arise and it is how you react to those is what defines you at a team," sophomore Jon Leuer said. "Tough atmospheres like those we have been at are good learning experiences for us because we're pretty young in some areas. We're always going to stick to our rules and our principles, which usually keep us in the game until then end. That's all we can ask for is to have a shot to win at the end."
One of the reasons, Leuer says, the Badgers have the stamina to make things happen down the final stretch starts in the summer at the hill. Working hard during the off season on conditioning and weight training, Leuer has seen first hand the benefits that a strong workout program provides for the Badgers in crunch time.
"Whoever is in the best shape the last five minutes of the game is going to be in the best mental shape to make the right decisions," Leuer said. "We've been more conditioned then some teams down the stretch in the last two years. We've been in pretty good shape and that gives us the confidence that we can pull it out. The way we prepare, I definitely feel, really helps us out."
Although pulling three two-point victories out of the fire this season, Wisconsin figured to be in a comfortable situation when Green Bay (6-2) comes in Madison Saturday for the two team's annual match up. UW has won all 14 games against the Phoenix, winning by an average score of 15.9 points per game under Ryan and winning by no less than 10 points, but Green Bay has won six straight, including a 15-point victory over Idaho State on Thursday.
"The game can turn around just that quick, especially when you don't score on nine straight possessions like we did on Tuesday," Landry said. "You've got to win in different ways – offensively and defensively. Green Bay is a good team with some athletic guys that can shoot the ball really well."
With the Badgers still searching for identity with three non-conference games left before Big Ten play begins on December 31, Wisconsin is looking for some consistency, some growth and, for the time being, no more close calls.
"We've got three more games before we go into the conference," said Landry. "We are really going to have to come together these next three games and mesh together. They say that we are a young team. If we are a young team, we're going to have to grow old fast."