January 30, 2009

Ball control key for UW to snap skid

MADISON, Wis. - When the final buzzer sounded on Wisconsin's 74-45 trouncing of Northwestern nearly over three weeks ago, things were looking good for the Badgers. At 3-0 in league play, UW was deadlocked with Michigan State atop the conference standings and were the only two undefeated teams left in the Big Ten.

Since that day, where the Badgers shot 50 percent from the field, everything, including UW's shooting percentage has gone downhill. As losers of five straight games, the Badgers have gone from a team that looked poised to make noise in the conference yet again to one that is desperate for a win before the calendar has even turned to February.

"It hit's you after every game," UW senior and leading rebounder Joe Krabbenhoft said following a recent practice. "Every loss is devastating. It's hard, it takes a lot out of you, but we want to get that winning feeling back."

If Wisconsin is to put an end to its longest losing streak since the infamous 11-game losing streak that ended the 1998 season, it will have to do so on the road against the same team it beat by nearly 30 points three weeks ago.

However, while UW has spiraled downward since that time, the Wildcats have pulled off some key wins of their own, namely at Michigan State, and currently sit in a tie with UW near the bottom of the league standings.

"They're playing well," UW head coach Bo Ryan, who has watched his team lose five straight games for the first time in his Badger career, said. "They're playing with more confidence, their timing is really good and they're hitting shots."

In fact, since its loss to the Badgers, Northwestern has shot over 45 percent from the field during its past five contest, three of which were wins and one was a two-point loss to Purdue. Conversely, UW has shot only 40.4 percent from the field with an even worse 32.8 mark from beyond the three-point line, a number that was largely inflated from Keaton Nankivil's 5-for-5 performance from distance in UW's last game.

Adding the Badgers inconsistencies scoring the ball to the fact that Northwestern has forced 92 turnovers in its past five games, including 22 each against Purdue, Minnesota, and Indiana as well as the 18 turnovers it forced against Michigan State, will force UW to value its possessions and keep the turnovers down, otherwise the streak could easily reach six.

"Just take what they give you," Krabbenhoft said. "You can't try to fight, fight, fight that defense and you can't try to force, force, force things, you've just got to take what they give you. Be calm, cool and collected. At home they're even better, so you just got to be ready mentally.

"I think mentally is the biggest part for the game at Northwestern."

The Badgers have not had an easy go of things in Evanston in recent years, and while they have come away two straight wins at Welsh-Ryan Arena, Northwestern holds the all-time edge at home 37-36. Needless to say, snapping its current skid against a feisty, and improving Wildcat squad will be anything but easy.

"The more you dwell or sulk or feel sorry for yourself, you're not moving forward," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said. "We've been close, but the last thing you need to do is dwell and fret and worry about it. Just move on, get better and get ready for the next one because the opponents aren't going to give a crap about what's happened to you."

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