After two tough road losses to begin the Big Ten season, the UW men's basketball team (10-4 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) returns to action tonight for its first home conference game of the 2002-2003 season. The Badgers host Minnesota (8-4, 0-1) in a game where both teams are searching for that elusive first conference win of the year.
This game also marks the first road contest for the tall, physical Gopher squad as they too are coming off a loss to Illinois. Led by preseason Big Ten Player of the Year sophomore forward Rick Rickert, Minnesota is the conference leader in blocks and one of the stingier defenses in the league. The strong ‘D' the Gophers play allows them to be not only the best defensive but also overall rebounding team in the Big Ten (38.3 rebounds per game).
Offensively, the Gophers have proven to be the highest scoring team in the conference with an average of 79.7 points per game. Sophomore Maurice Hargrow paces the team with 14.3 points a game followed closely by Rickert's 14.2. But the success of the team has been and will continue to be determined by the play of senior Kevin Burleson. Burleson is the conference leader in assists with his 5.3 per game, but has been hindered by his tendency to turn the ball over.
The Badgers are also having problems with turnovers and inconsistencies offensively and defensively. As they have shown glimpses of a dominant, suffocating defense, there have also been significant lapses during which UW has not seemed as aggressive as it needs to be on the defensive end of the court.
Sophomore Devin Harris leads the Big Ten with 28 steals and looks to exceed his average of 2.21 a game in order to exercise the needed aggressiveness on defense.
Offensively, the well-balanced scoring attack of the Badgers will be required for the team to pull off a tough conference victory. Freshman Alando Tucker is averaging 14.3 points per contest and will be a definite force in the paint for the Badgers. His .596 field goal percentage is tops in the conference.
The Badgers are happy to be home and anxious to get in the win column on their home turf. In fact, UW has won the last seven meetings with the Gophers in Madison.
"It's always good to be at home," Coach Bo Ryan said in his weekly press conference. "That's why you call it home and that's good for us to get back in here. But that doesn't mean automatically certain things happen, it just means okay, now you get to be on the floor that you're going to shoot on for the next couple of days."
Here are three keys to victory for each team:
THREE KEYS FOR MINNESOTA
1) Let ‘em Fly
The Gophers are not shy when it comes to throwing up the 3-ball. Attempting about 20 a game and shooting nearly 38 percent beyond the arc, the Gophers will be in good shape if they hot.
2) Got Rick?
Minnesota is 8-1 when sophomore Rick Rickert is in the starting lineup. If he's dominating, look for the team to be successful. Interesting to note, Rickert will be wearing jersey number #4 for this contest, rather than his home #1. Why? The team awarded him both numbers to make up the fact he was not allowed his first two choices for jersey numbers.
3) Passing Grades
In order for the Gophers to get a passing grade for this game, they'll need to pass the ball. Second in the conference in assists, the more they distribute, the better they play.
THREE KEYS FOR WISCONSIN
1) Charity Stripe
It's hard to argue, but this will be a key for the Badgers as long as they continue to be one of the top two teams in free throw percentage in the conference. Now second in the Big Ten with 74.4 percent from the line, as long as the Badgers hit their free shots, their chances of winning are good.
2) Five Alarm Fire
The Badgers were atrocious from the field against Illinois and will definitely be looking to rebound. Rarely do the Badgers shoot poorly in back to back games. If the starting five is hot, look for the fire to spread and for the entire team to be raining jumpers from all over the court.
3) Own the Boards
As the Gophers are tops in the conference in grabbing rebounds, the Badgers are one of the top teams in allowing the fewest number of rebounds per game. As long as sophomore Mike Wilkinson and Tucker limit the number of second chance opportunities the Gophers have and create more opportunities for the offense, UW will be in good position.
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