MADISON, Wis. - Time is supposed to heal all wounds. But even if that old adage is true, it hasn't been long enough for the Badgers to get over their last game against Michigan State. Not yet, at least.
Ryan Evans' last second three-pointer was waved off by the referees, and the Badgers fell to Michigan State 63-60 at the Kohl Center. The loss dropped them to a disappointing 1-3 start in conference play, and left them with rare back-to-back home losses. At the time, it seemed as though the Badgers were on the verge of a tailspin, with poor shooting keeping them from pulling out of the nosedive.
But since that home loss, the Badgers are 7-2 in Big Ten play, and are just one game out of first place. They scraped out good wins at Purdue and at Illinois, and kept themselves alive game by game. Luckily enough for the Badgers, they get another shot at the Spartans; and can keep themselves within striking distance of a conference championship with a win on Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
"It's going to be really fun again," sophomore guard Josh Gasser said after practice Tuesday. "It's going to be jumping. Hopefully we can play well this time. We've just got to play our game, limit them in transition. The fewer easy buckets they get, the better off we'll be."
But wins at the Breslin Center aren't easy to come by. The Badgers haven't won in East Lansing since March of 2004, when the Badgers took down the Spartans 68-64 in overtime. But as Gasser points out, the Badgers have been playing pretty well on the road this season, and have already snapped a long-time losing streak.
"Anytime you go on the road and win a few games, your confidence is going to go up when you travel," Gasser said. "We haven't won at Michigan State in a while, (but) we hadn't won at Purdue in a while and we went in there and got a win. We've kind of got that edge to us now, where we know if we play our game there's no way we're not going to win."
"We've just got to go in there, stick to the game plan and execute, and hopefully pull it out."
But it's not just the Badgers who have had trouble in East Lansing. The Breslin Center is known for making road games tough for any opponent, much like other Big Ten venues. But junior forward Ryan Evans thinks the Badgers have experienced a lot of adversity on the road already, and are in a position to handle it well again.
"We've played in a lot of loud places this year," Evans said. "Carolina, Illinois, Purdue ... that's expected in the Big Ten. They got one in our house, and we'd like to go in and get one in theirs."
Stealing another road win would give the Badgers a big boost, as they have just six Big Ten games remaining before the start of tournament season. If they want to make the most of their turnaround, they need to make a move now.
"There's some fight on our team," senior point guard Jordan Taylor said. "There's some fight left, and we feel like we have another opportunity Thursday to go in and try to get back on top of the Big Ten standings."
But if they want to beat the Spartans on the road, they'll have to execute well in what will almost assuredly be a tough, grind-it-out game. But that's to be expected, as the Badgers and Spartans always seem to give each other their best shot, no matter where the game is played.
"We've both won games in a variety of ways," Gasser said. "It's just going to be a typical Wisconsin-Michigan State game. Physical, battling down low, and stuff like that."
"We've just got to execute better, knock down shots ... They're playing really well, so it'd be huge to get a win down there."