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February 27, 2012
MADISON -- With only one day between games, Wisconsin did not have much time to enjoy its 63-60 victory Sunday over Ohio State.
The Badgers enjoyed it on the trip back, but once they arrived back on the UW campus, they turned their focus to Minnesota.
As impressive as the win was, it was still just one of 18 Big Ten games on the schedule.
"How's that any bigger than the one at Minnesota, the one Illinois, the one at Purdue?" head coach Bo Ryan asked Monday. "Because you say it's big? I don't know. They're all big aren't they?"
This week's schedule for Wisconsin resembles what they'll encounter later this month when postseason play begins. Tuesday's game against Minnesota will be the third in six days for the Badgers.
If you considered Sunday's game at Ohio State like a Thursday or Friday second-round game in the NCAA tournament, Tuesday would be the Saturday or Sunday game in the third round. The four days in between -- Wednesday through Saturday -- would equate to the same amount of time between games as there would be between the third and fourth rounds.
It may be a bit of a scheduling quirk, but the Badgers will get a bit of an early look at what the NCAA tournament will be like, albeit with one road game and two at home, rather than three at a pair of neutral sites.
"I'm sure Coach will have that comparison today," Jared Berggren said. "You have one day to prepare in the NCAA tournament. It's definitely good preparation this time of year to get in that routine. Hopefully we can experience that a few times in the tournament."
But what part of it is a bigger challenge: preparing for a new team with only one day between games, or the physical toll of playing three games in the span of six days?
In short, the answer is both.
"I'd say it's freshness not only physically, but mentally," Josh Gasser said. "You've just got to stay focused. Only getting one day to prepare for a team, you've got to go into that day of practice and really mentally prepare and focus on what's coming next."
As much as it may be a challenge to win when playing so many games in such a short span, the players don't mind.
"For players I think it's fun," Jordan Taylor said. "I think we want to play six games in six days, it makes it more fun to just keep going."
A lot is made of "signature wins" this time of year as teams fight for the 68 spots in the NCAA tournament field.
Well, the Badgers certainly got one Sunday in Columbus.
With the 63-60 victory over then-No. 8 Ohio State, Wisconsin got its first road win over a Big Ten opponent ranked in the top-10 since 1980. That too was against the Buckeyes, who were ranked fourth at the time.
"It's huge," Gasser said. "We've played some quality opponents this year and just haven't quite pulled them out. Michigan State, Marquette, Ohio State earlier in the year, and all the others. It's nice to get one, especially on the road."
Wisconsin improved to 21-8 overall with a 10-6 record in Big Ten play, all but clinching a spot in the top four of the conference. One win in the Badgers' final two games -- both of which are at home -- will continue their streak of never finishing lower than fourth in the Big Ten in any of Ryan's 11 years as head coach.
Perhaps more importantly, it will give the Badgers a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament next week, keeping them just a bit fresher for the NCAA tournament and giving them a better shot at a conference tournament title.
Ride the momentum
While it may not have a significant impact on their overall record, position in the conference standings, or the Badgers' seed in the NCAA tournament, Sunday's win could do wonders for their confidence.
As much as Wisconsin has excelled on the road this season, the win at Ohio State was far and away the most impressive of the Badgers' six conference road wins. Not only that, it was their third win in nine games against ranked opponents this season. And the first against a top ten foe.
With that win on the resume, Wisconsin now would like to ride the confidence and momentum from Sunday's game to an even better month of March.
"We want the season to go as long as we can," Taylor said. "We have four guaranteed games left I guess. After these two, then nothing's guaranteed. You've got to win to keep advancing. So it's definitely a nice thing to have, a nice win to have."