MADISON, Wis. -- Riding a five-game winning streak, the No. 25 Wisconsin Badgers received two days off from practice following their 57-50 win over No. 16 Indiana. Those extra days off could prove crucial, as the Badgers have an important stretch of games coming up: five of their next seven games are on the road, with three of those seven coming against ranked teams. If they want to stay in contention for the Big Ten title, they'll need to play some of their best basketball, and it wouldn't hurt to catch a few breaks as well.
Up next for the Badgers is a road game against the Penn State Nittany Lions, who are currently in the Big Ten's cellar at 10-12 (2-7 Big Ten). But don't let their pedestrian record fool you: the Lions can be a tough out at home. They've already knocked out then-No. 22 Illinois and Purdue at the Bryce Jordan Center, and have been able to hang with other teams like Indiana, who escaped State College with a 88-82 win in early January. Wisconsin sophomore Josh Gasser is aware of how important this next stretch is for the Badgers.
"We know we have a big stretch coming up with traveling to Penn State and (hosting) Ohio State," Gasser said before practice Sunday. "Any time you can get a few road wins, you know you can get the next one. We're just going to go in there like it's any other game, and hopefully get another win."
Gasser brought up another potential problem for the Badgers: Penn State might be up next, but they have a critical home date with No. 4 Ohio State looming on Saturday as well. The Badgers can't afford to drop any more winnable games after starting the conference season 1-3, and the specter of Ohio State could cause the team to overlook the Lions on the road. But Gasser wasn't overly concerned about Penn State becoming a trap game; he and his teammates know they need to stay focused on the task at hand.
"We've just got to take this as another Big Ten game that we really need," Gasser said. "We're right in the thick of things, and we've just got to go in there and take care of business."
For the most part, Penn State guard Tim Frazier leads the way for the Nittany Lions. The 6-foot-1 junior averages almost 18 points per game, to go along with six assists and almost five rebounds. Frazier's counterpoint, Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor, is aware of how much Frazier means to Penn State's offense.
"Tim Frazier has been playing well," Taylor said Sunday." He's been playing well all year. It shows how hard they play, no matter what. Regardless of the score or their record they're always playing hard and bringing 100 percent effort."
Gasser mentioned that other players feed off of Frazier, and it helps them play better on their home court.
"Other players feed off of (Frazier) and from the crowd so it's tough to beat them there," Gasser said. "We've got to handle what their strengths are ... keep playing physical, and crash the glass."
Penn State shows just how deep the Big Ten is this year - It's always tough to win on the road in the Big Ten, even against the conference's perennial bottom-dwellers. They might be just 2-7 in the conference this year, but that doesn't mean they'll be an easy out for the Badgers on Tuesday. After all, you don't have look very far back to see Penn State's 36-33 win over the Badgers in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament, or their 56-52 home win over the then-No. 15 Badgers in the Bryce Jordan Center.
"They've got a good team," Taylor said. "They've got guys who know how to win, (and) they've got some guys back from last year. (But) I don't think it's a trap game, we've talked about all year that the 12th-best team can beat the 1st (place) team, so we've got to come ready to play."