January 27, 2010

UW and Purdue to meet with plenty on the line

MADISON - Wisconsin and Purdue met on the hardwood a short 17 days ago and 18 by the time of Thursday night's tip. In that mere two and a half week period, much has changed for both teams.

Purdue suffered its first loss of the season to Wisconsin in that Jan. 9th game and went on to lose two more before their season long three-game losing streak was snapped with a win at Illinois.

Following Wisconsin's win over Purdue, the Badgers were dealt with a devastating loss when the team found out Jon Leuer would be sidelined indefinitely with a broken wrist which occurred when bracing for a fall after crashing the boards.

So, moving forward without its second leading scorer and leading rebounder, the Badgers had plenty of question marks. While UW has gone 3-1 in Leuer's absence, it hasn't come easy and there are plenty of trends developing.

Most noticeable is the reliance on the three-point shot. In the four games without Leuer, UW has shot more than 50 percent of its shots from downtown, a number 16 percent higher than it was with Leuer in the lineup.

On the other side of that coin, UW has been able to utilize the shot from distance in an effort to storm back from deficits (Michigan and Penn State) or break open a close game (Northwestern).

It has also been a major clog in the Badger offense because so often UW settles for a deep shot instead of working the ball into the paint. Still, UW is learning on the fly without Leuer, who was really an offensive stabilizer, and finding out ways to win games without him.

And one of the main developments has been the way UW is able to come from behind and win.

"We've put ourselves into some bad positions this year and we've been able to get out of it," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said following a recent practice. "We've done some things for a period of time that wasn't good during a stretch of a game. Then we did some really good things for a period of time that ended up playing in our favor."

So far this season, no matter the score or the time left on the clock, UW has never seemed to be out of a game. They have a confidence that allows them to believe they can storm back and win the game. And that is something that was probably learned a bit last year when the team suffered through a six-game losing streak.

"In those stretches of games where we lost, we got down quite a bit and made it a game by the end," Bohannon said. "We just didn't come out in our favor. That's kind of the chance and opportunities you have. Usually the probability is not in your favor. We've been very lucky to get these last two wins for the way we've played in a period of games.

"Most of the time you're down that much, you're not able to get back out of that deficit."

For Purdue, a team that was picked to finish near the top of the Big Ten standings by several experts prior to the conference season, a mini-three game losing streak early in league play seems to have grounded the Boilermakers and re-establish focus.

Since winning at Illinois, Purdue has reeled off wins over Illinois and Michigan. They now sit in a three-way tie with the Illinois and Ohio State for third place in the league. A win over the Badgers would move them within a half-game of Wisconsin for second place in the league.

Purdue guard E'Twaun Moore is playing at an all-conference level and is leading the team with 17.5 points per game. Fellow juniors Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson join Moore as players averaging in double digit scoring.

In the past two games, those three players are averaging a combined 52 points per game, or 68 percent of Purdue's scoring during said stretch.

So, if Wisconsin is going to get a very rare win inside Mackey Arena (UW is a lifetime 16-66 at Purdue), it will need to get off to a good start offensively and limit the production of those key contributors for Purdue.

"Taking care of the ball, getting good shots every possession and doing what we need to do offensively and defensively," Bohannon said. "That's really a big statement for where we want to be and where Wisconsin basketball should be."

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