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Wisconsin men’s basketball: Badgers look to make it two straight against Northwestern

Wisconsin will be looking for another win to improve their NCAA Tournament position against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Wisconsin men’s basketball had a blue January.

When the calendar flipped to the new year, the Badgers (5-6 Big Ten, 13-8 overall) went 2-6 to put themselves near the basement of the Big Ten.

But UW stopped the bleeding with a tough 65-60 road win against the Buckeyes Thursday, and have a chance to exact vengeance over the surging Northwestern Wildcats (6-5, 15-7) Sunday night.

In one of the lower points of UW’s losing skid, the Badgers had control of the game in Evanston back on Jan. 23, but eventually lost a tight one 66-63 as NU’s guards stood out.

Wildcat seniors Boo Bouie and Chase Audige led the way for Northwestern with 20 and 16 points respectively as the Badgers were short-handed at the guard spot with Max Klesmit out injured.

With Klesmit back, his defense will likely be a key in guarding Bouie and Audige. The junior from Neenah also has impressed on offense, posting two-straight 12 point games for the Badgers since he’s come back from an injury he suffered against Penn State.

UW’s precipitous drop in the standings coincided with the offense struggling to score. Last time the Badgers faced the Wildcats, UW shot below 40% from the field and an abysmal 56% from the free throw line.

Those struggles from the charity stripe have been especially evident in close games — a bad sign for Wisconsin considering they only seem to play in close games. Nine of Wisconsin’s games have finished within four points. With the Badgers shooting 68% from the free throw line, that puts UW in a bad spot.

It will be interesting to see how head coach Greg Gard uses the rotation. In the win against Ohio State, UW definitely had a tighter rotation, with all five starters tallying over 32 minutes. Although it led to a win, the Badgers’ strong first half performance — a 43-27 at the break and shooting 52% from the field — evaporated.

Senior forward Tyler Wahl also had an off night against the Buckeyes, going just 2-for-10 from the field and scoring just five. As Wahl is still shaking off his earlier ankle injury that helped lead to UW’s losing streak, it was a good sign that Wisconsin could still prevail despite Wahl’s struggles.

But in the end, Wisconsin pulled off the victory against OSU that was likely a must win for their tournament chances. Various bracketologists put Wisconsin squarely on the bubble. UW will hope the road win in Columbus can help provide the team a boost.

Now Wisconsin has a chance to turn the page on a slump as the page turned on the calendar. The Badgers can keep push its way up a log-jammed conference standings with a win against the Northwestern Wildcats. They’ll host the Wildcats at 5:30 p.m. Central at the Kohl Center Sunday on Big Ten Network.