Keeping Hope Alive
Since I have done more than my share of Badger-bashing in this forum, I thought it was only fair that I acknowledge the Badgers decision over Illinois last night at the Kohl Center. (As I write this, I’m watching the Badger hockey team at Minnesota–man, hockey looks good in wide-screen HD. Especially with the Badgers leading 2-0.)
The win snapped a 6 game losing streak and was a positive, but necessary, first step in keeping Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament hopes alive. Considering that the Badgers need to win as many games as they can in order to secure a bid, it’s a given that they can’t afford to lose any more home games. A 7th straight loss after coming home from the road probably would have been the death knell for the Badgers shaky confidence. Last night, the team seemed to play with a renewed sense of urgency no doubt at least partly born of desperation. They were the beneficiaries of solid games out of Jon Leuer and Joe Krabbenhoft and a lights out performance from junior guard Jason Bohannon, who despite his fine shooting night should never again attempt to dunk in a game.
Of course, some of Wisconsin’s shortcomings were still manifest even in victory, though fortunately not to the degree that they were during the losing streak. Much was made of the Badgers holding the Illini to under a 33% field goal percentage. But it should be noted that Illinois missed a number open looks, particularly in the first half. That, coupled with the Badgers own higher than average shooting percentage combined to make the game a little more comfortable than it otherwise might have been. Wisconsin also continued a trend of having trouble switching on defense around screens, which often leads to opposing players getting uncontested shots. And after virtually carrying the team in the first half, Marcus Landry once again “disappeared” gathering only one rebound in the second half. Landry shows such flashes of brilliance at times that it would be fascinating to see what he and the Badgers could accomplish if he were ever able to put together a complete game.
But, at this point, Wisconsin fans can hardly afford to be nitpicking after a win. The basic characteristic of Wisconsin teams under Bo Ryan, and for that matter his predecessor Dick Bennett, is that UW most often played harder and smarter than their opponents. It’s important that the team remember that and maintain the effort they showed in last night’s game. Anything less will send them home in March; they’ve already used up their margin for error.