Varsity is the free Official Digital Magazine of Wisconsin Athletics, covering Badgers football, basketball, hockey and more each week.
Issue link: http://catalog.e-digitaleditions.com/i/284355
20 // VARSITY March 27, 2014 BY MATT LEPAY // VOICE OF THE BADGERS THE VOICE A couple of weeks ago in this forum, I mentioned the atmosphere for the Wiscon- sin-Nebraska basketball game in Lincoln, and how it was as impres- sive as any I had witnessed in years. Lincoln, you were trumped last Saturday by thousands of Badgers fans at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. When we found out the Badgers were being sent to Milwaukee for the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, it brought back memo- ries of the 2004 tourney and UW's comeback victory against Rich- mond. I thought it was loud that day. It was. But after last weekend, I can say when it comes to decibel levels, there is a new leader in the clubhouse. As Bo Ryan's team stormed back from a 12-point halftime deficit, the old building in Milwaukee was rock- ing. After the game, my ears were ringing. When the Badgers played at the UW Field House, there were a few times I felt that sensation. Since then, I had not. Until last Saturday. Perhaps a big part of it is the Field House and the Bradley Center are buildings that can hold noise better than others. I guess the game was kinda big too, right? However, even longtime observers of events in Milwaukee openly admitted last weekend's raucous crowd was the loudest they had ever heard in that facility. While the cheering certainly helped, it was the group of play- ers on the floor who did the heavy lifting. The Badgers contained a high-scoring Oregon team to just 28 second-half points. Meanwhile, Wisconsin was guilty of just two turnovers and hung 48 points on a squad that prides itself on playing pressure defense. To say the least, the Badgers handled Oregon ― and the pressure of the moment ― extremely well. Now it is onto Anaheim for Wis- consin's third Sweet 16 appearance in four years. Thursday night at 6:47 p.m., the Badgers will square off with Baylor. The Bears head west having won 12 of their last 14 games, looking as impressive as anyone remaining in the tournament. Not bad for a team many seemed ready to dismiss at the end of Janu- ary. While the Badgers had their mid-season struggles, coach Scott Drew's team suffered through an even tougher stretch, dropping 8 of 10 games. It did not help that starting guard Kenny Chery was hobbling with turf toe. The Bears also ran into several ranked teams playing very well at the time. Then things changed for the better. Chery returned. An active zone defense caused problems for opponents (see: Creighton), and the Bears went from a team hoping to be in the conversation for a tour- ney bid to being a serious threat to advance to the Final Four. Once again, the Badgers will face a team that ― similar to Wisconsin ― is very balanced. As well as the Badgers can shoot the 3, Baylor has been even better, knocking down a Big 12-leading 39 percent from long range. I could keep going, but you get the picture. Welcome to the Sweet 16. It probably makes sense to suggest that with each step in a postseason run, the tension would build. Maybe it does, but the term "uptight" need not apply to the Badgers. What I like about this team is that they seem to be thoroughly enjoying the ride, and they have all season long. I was not on the August trip to Canada, but going back to train- ing camp and the opening game of the season in Sioux Falls, S.D., this group likes to laugh. As senior Ben Brust said, this is a team that simply enjoys each other's company. That is not to suggest past teams have not, but this appears to be an especially chatty bunch, from the freshmen class to the "old guys." They will joke around and make fun of each other. If you choose to enter the fray, consider yourself fair game. But when it is time to work, they work. When a game reaches crunch time, they become mature adults who ― nearly without fail ― handle spotlight moments better than most. Many factors go into strong tour- nament runs. Ultimately, it comes down to execution. Make shots. Get stops. But it never hurts to have some fun along the way. The Badgers have a chance for several reasons, not the least of which is they enjoy the process. Headline From playing pranks on one another to the serious work of game preparation. Everybody loves to win, but this outfit truly enjoys the path to getting there, both on and off the floor. It is yet another reason why this season is so enjoyable.