February 21, 2009

UW downplays rivalry with Spartans

MADISON, Wis. - Maybe it was Wisconsin's upset at Michigan State that ended the Spartans home winning streak in 2002. Maybe it was Devin Harris' alley-oop to Alando Tucker as time expired when the Badgers coasted to a win over MSU in the Kohl Center.

Maybe it was UW's rally from a late deficit to shock Michigan State when it seemed the Spartans had a win in the bag in Madison. Maybe it was MSU beating Wisconsin after the Badgers earned their first ever No. 1 A.P national ranking.

Or maybe it was a combination of all the above that have made this match-up between Wisconsin and Michigan State one of the Big Ten's most fierce rivalries.

"Anytime we play Michigan State it's going to be a big game," UW junior Jason Bohannon said after Friday's practice. "They're always very good and it's always a big game. It's become a lot more popular with the media in recent years, but we're trying to treat it as another Big Ten game."

That has always been UW's mantra under current head coach Bo Ryan: Every game is a big game and every team is a rival. The team never gets too high after a win or too low after a loss and the most important team is the one that is next on the schedule.

But it seems over his tenure, and his 78 percent winning rate against MSU, that this one has a little added fire. Since the 2001-2002 season, UW has earned at least a share of three of the seven Big Ten regular season titles.

While MSU has not endured the same conference success as UW, it has consistently performed well in the national tournament, including a final four run in 2005.

"Obviously the two programs have been playing for a lot lately," UW assistant coach Howard Moore said. "That's always exciting. We would hope our guys get up for every game whether we're playing the last place team or obviously we're playing the first place team.

"Obviously there is a little history there, but the thing that we want to keep our kids mind on is we want to play Wisconsin basketball."

It's that same Wisconsin basketball that has helped UW respond from an earlier six-game losing streak by reeling off its current five-game winning streak. Now heading into the Breslin Center, the Badgers currently sit in fourth place in the league and is seemingly playing some of its best basketball of the season.

"I'm just trying to return the favor cause my freshman year, I was trying to win a ring that year," UW junior Trevon Hughes said. "They ruined it for us. Now, I'm just going to try to return the favor."

Doing so will not be easy. MSU, currently ranked in the top five in the country, has been a tough opponent for anybody playing them. With Wisconsin coming into town and with the Spartans national championship team reunion, the environment will be one of the toughest the Badgers will see all year.

"This one is going to be a good test for us," Hughes said. "Going into East Lansing, they're ranked in the nation right now and we just want to see where we're at going into the Big Ten tournament.

"Let's see where we're at at this point in the season,"

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