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January 27, 2010
Mackey Arena: A house of horrors for UW
MADISON - Let's say you were born in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Either way, let's say you were old enough around December of 1967 to remember the opening of Mackey Arena on the Purdue University campus.
At the time, the new state-of-the-art, six-million dollar facility was probably exciting considering it was a new Big Ten venue set to host conference basketball.
But if you grew up as a Wisconsin fan, little did you know at that time that Mackey Arena would become a house of horrors for the cardinal and white because winning there for the Badgers is like safely landing a helicopter someplace in a mountain range.
It's difficult to do.
After claiming victory the first time it played in Mackey Arena in January of 1968, Wisconsin then went on to lose 32 of its next 33 games played in the arena. After UW's victory in the 1971-72 season, the Badgers did not win again until five years after the turn of the millennium, a span of 29 straight losses over a 32-year stretch.
"You always remember when you can hit some shots and get a W," UW head coach Bo Ryan said when asked if any game at Mackey Arena stood out to him. "But, what's in the past is in the past. We're just preparing for now."
Using now as a relative term for the recent string of UW's success overall under Ryan, the Badgers have still had their fair share of struggles against Purdue. In the eight-plus years Ryan has led the Badgers, the Boilermakers are the only team that has a winning record against UW.
Overall, Wisconsin has a 6-7 record against Purdue. When you look at games played in West Lafayette, that record dwindles down to 1-5.
Whether it is the darkness of the arena, the tight spaces, the corner scoreboards, the slightly elevated court or the wide sideline, something makes playing at Mackey incredibly difficult for the Badgers.
Ryan, though, said the place is not the issue.
"I don't ever think about the place," Ryan said. "I never let that muddy anything I have to think about to prepare for a game. I let other people do that. I don't get into that."
Well, considering the spell of non-success over the past 43 seasons against Purdue, it becomes easy to see that the place has something to do with the win percentage. Granted, Purdue has historically been one of the better teams in the conference on the hardwood so that explains most of the struggle, especially during the 29-game losing streak.
But since Ryan has come to town, Wisconsin has been the most successful Big Ten program. Even so, the Badgers have not figured out the puzzle that is Mackey Arena.
So is it time to start pulling out the lucky charms, avoiding pre-game jinxes, and dusting off the old rabbit's foot?
"I'd say most basketball players are pretty superstitious," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said following a recent practice. "I wouldn't say superstitious in that sense. I'd say we all try to keep our routine and everything. Coach Ryan does the same thing and that really makes it easy for us. We're doing the same things on the road as we're doing at home.
"I don't think we're looking at stepping on a certain crack or anything like that. That's not really the type of superstitious our guys are."
Though history is not on their side, and the place they will meet the Boilermakers Thursday evening has been haunting for UW, Thursday's game is just another one on the schedule for this Badger squad.
All that previous history and lack of success is exactly that. It's history.
Remember, UW is playing in the now and maybe by doing so, now will bring about something about as rare and uncommon as running into the 'Yeti' or seeing the 'Loch Ness Monster.'
That being a Badger win in West Lafayette.