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Wisconsin basketball: Badgers look to stop skid at home against Nittany Lions

Since losing senior forward Tyler Wahl to an ankle injury, Wisconsin has lost three straight games. Can they avoid a fourth straight loss?

Since the calendar has hit January, Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball has had a case of the new year blues.

After a close win in the Border Battle against Minnesota, the Badgers (3-3 Big Ten, 11-5 overall) have gone on a three-game losing skid in part because of an ankle injury that senior talisman Tyler Wahl suffered in that victory over the Gophers.

Wahl’s status is still considered “day-to-day,” but UW will be hoping to get something going on offense either way as they host the Penn State Nittany Lions (3-3, 12-5).

The loss of Wahl means the Badgers have been without their leading scorer (13.2 ppg) and one of their best defenders. And despite some solid efforts, Wisconsin’s other big men outside of have struggled to fill Wahl’s offensive shoes in his absence.

In three starts, junior Carter Gilmore has only 14 points. Sophomore Marcus Ilver has displayed flashes of potential, but has seven points in his last three including a bagel in UW’s 65-45 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers (sidenote: somehow that is not the lowest number of points the Badgers scored this season. That was 43 in a game where they actually beat Dayton).

Although the big men-depth has been a glaring frustration for Badger fans, the whole team stunk it up against the Hoosiers, especially in the second half. UW shot 32% from the field, 21% from three-point land and an abysmal 36% from the charity stripe.

One bright spot for Wisconsin in the drought has been the growth of freshman sharpshooter Connor Essegian. The Indiana-native was the only Badger in double figures against the Hoosiers with 14. UW’s spark off the bench leads the conference in scoring as the Badgers’ sixth man, and he’ll need to continue to be steady against the Nittany Lions.

Last time out, the Nittany Lions crushed Indiana 85-66 in the Hoosiers’ last game before Wisconsin. PSU was unconscious from three, going 18-for-31 (58% shooting) led by its two senior guards Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk. Both players went 7-for-12 from three, scoring 25 and 23 respectively as the Hoosiers played poorly on defense.

The Nittany Lions have had a longer lay off when they come to town, in what could be a crucial junction for Wisconsin’s season. The other key starters — sophomore Chucky Hepburn and Crowl — will have to respond in the match-up at the Kohl Center.

Crowl was held to five points against the Hoosiers despite impressive offensive outputs in losses to Illinois and Michigan State. Meanwhile Hepburn seemed to be pressing for shots and big plays too much against the Hoosiers.

The Badgers’ chances look a lot different with the prospect of Wahl. Probably the most scrutinized ankle in the state, if number five can suit up for Wisconsin, that could provide a big spark to stop the current struggles. With or without Wahl, the Badgers will look to avoid dropping a fourth straight game. That matchup will start at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on Big Ten Network.