Focused on Next

On the flight home after an early knockout from Indianapolis last season, Wisconsin wasn't sure if it would have a chance to redeem itself in the national tournament. Although the stay in Indy was another short one, the Badgers know that it will be in the field of 65, and have a chance to make up for its conference tournament shortcomings.

INDIANAPOLIS - How different, yet similar, one year can be for the University of Wisconsin.

Sitting in a small Conseco Fieldhouse locker room, the Badgers sat gloom, depressed and at a loss for words. Sitting squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble heading into the quarterfinal match-up of the Big Ten Tournament, the fourth-seeded Badgers blew a lead to fifth-seeded Ohio State to give itself an early exit from the tournament.

UW had no more chances to impress the committee and hoped that the selection group would look at the tough schedule it played and not at its mediocre 19-12 record. The Badgers were given amnesty as a No.12 seed, and managed to upset fifth-seed Florida State in the first round before being sent home.

One year later, Wisconsin, sitting melancholy in that same cramped locker room after another defeat in the 4-5 match-up, won't have to sit on pins and needles this Selection Sunday.

When the tournament brackets are announced Sunday evening, the Badgers' name will certainly be on it, giving Wisconsin its 12th straight national tournament appearance, tied for the fourth longest current streak in the country.

"It's definitely exciting, knowing that we'll get another chance to play," said senior Trevon Hughes, after UW's 58-54 loss to Illinois Friday. "We are going to keep that swagger. We got a good squad. We didn't play well throughout the whole 40 minutes, but we are pretty confident that we can. We know what we have to do."

Wisconsin (23-8) has showed how to win big games throughout the course of the season, having defeated three AP top-10 teams (No.6 Duke, No.4 Purdue and No.5 Michigan State) for the fourth time in school history. The Badgers have won by their shutdown defense (third in the NCAA allowing 56.1 points per game) and being stingy with the basketball (leading the country with only nine turnovers per game).

But where Wisconsin has earned its place in the field of 65 is its poise down the stretch or after a loss. Last season, the Badgers held a second-half lead in 10 of its 13 losses, putting themselves in the precarious situation they were in on Selection Sunday.

This season, UW erased second-half deficits in three of its Big Ten wins, including digging out of a 16-point hole to upend Penn State in overtime (the fourth-largest comeback in school history). Three times this season did UW trail late in games and came back to win.

More importantly, Wisconsin was the only team in the conference to not lose consecutive games this season, giving the Badgers the confidence it can recover from its most challenging of setbacks.

"Anytime you have a loss like this, you want to bounce back as quickly as you can," said senior Jason Bohannon. "We have an opportunity to do that, and we are certainly going to come ready and prepared."

With a senior backcourt leading the way, a renewed Jon Leuer in the starting line-up (UW's 16-4 when he starts) and having every player in its starting rotation registering at least one 20-point game this season, the Badgers, once again, will be a tough out come next weekend.

"It's definitely a bump in the road, but we are going to get through," said Hughes. "It's going to make us better and stronger as a team. It always sucks when you lose, especially a one-and-done conference tournament like this where every team we go against in good. If they are (in the NCAA Tournament), they are going to be good. There's nothing easy, but we know what we got to do."

Different year, same locker room, same motto.


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