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Big Ten title or bust for Badgers

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March 12, 2014

Josh Gasser isn't interested in turning Wisconsin's trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis into a pit stop.

The redshirt junior guard from Port Washington doesn't view the Big Ten men's basketball tournament as a tune-up for the 68-team party the NCAA will hold next week.

“I don't have a ring,” Gasser said, referring to one of the trinkets given the winners of the Big Ten tournament. “I want a ring. And everyone else on my team feels the same way.

“That's our next challenge ahead. That's our next goal.”

UW (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten), which hasn't won the Big Ten tournament title since 2008, is seeded No.2 and opens at 5:30 p.m. Friday against either No. 7 Minnesota or No. 10 Penn State.

The Gophers (19-12, 8-10) and Nittany Lions (15-16, 6-12) meet at 5:30 p.m. today (ESPN2).

“It's the Big Ten tournament now—win or go home,” Gasser said. “And then you start the NCAA Tournament and it's really win or go home.”

UW was seeded fourth last season and knocked off No. 5 Michigan and No. 1 Indiana before falling to No. 3 Ohio State, 50-43, in the title game.

The Badgers shot just 25.4 percent in their NCAA Tournament opener and suffered a 57-46 loss to Ole Miss. Michigan, meanwhile, regrouped after its early exit from the league tournament and rolled to the national title game before losing to Louisville.

UW senior guard Ben Brust doesn't believe UW's three-day run in the 2013 Big Ten tournament hurt the players' chances in the NCAA Tournament.

“I don't think there was a hangover by any means,” he said. “It was just that we didn't play good basketball.”

Brust's goal is to make another three-day run in the Big Ten tournament.

“As a competitor when you get into a tournament you want to win,” he said. “We want to win it. Everybody wants to win it.

“It is who is willing to do the dirty work and get the job done in March.”

One area of concern entering postseason play is UW's inability to keep teams out of the lane.

Nebraska guards Shavon Shields (8 of 12 shots) and Terran Petteway (6 of 7 shots) combined to make 14 of 19 shots in the paint and finished with 26 points apiece.

Penn State scored 50 of its 66 points in the paint in a five-point loss to UW. Guards D.J. Newbill (14), Tim Frazier (8) and John Johnson (6) combined for 28 of the 50 points.

In an 81-68 loss at Minnesota in January, UW surrendered 48 points in the paint.

Minnesota's big men killed UW early but in the second half guards DeAndre Mathieu (10), Austin Hollins (8) and Malik Smith (4) combined for 22 points in the paint.

“They got into the lane a little bit too much,” UW junior Traevon Jackson said of Nebraska's guards. “As guards, we've got to start helping the bigs out more.”

In Jackson's view, the on-ball defense has to improve and a wing defender on that side has to help cut off penetration and then get back out to his man on the perimeter if needed.

“We've got to start squeezing in a little more and helping them out,” he said, referring to UW's post players. “Because the way the (block-charge) calls are this year they can't be as aggressive as they want to be so we have to clean up and squeeze the court more and make them take tougher shots. We've got to be able help and recover.

“We've got to clean up this stuff now, though. If we don't clean it up, we'll be done.”

Minutes after seeing his team lose at Nebraska on Sunday, UW coach Bo Ryan was asked about his team's chances to secure a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Ryan, who doesn't look past the next practice, much less past the next game, responded as you would expect.

“I don't even know what that is,” he said. “I don't even know what you're talking about. You guys don't know me.

“The No. 1 seed for what? We're the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament. That's the only thing I know.”

His players know UW's title drought is five years and counting.

“I told you before the season my goal was to win a Big Ten championship,” junior center Frank Kaminsky said, “and we still have an opportunity to do that.”



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