Defensive Badgers could make life difficult for Gophers

Michael Dougherty

Wisconsin men’s basketball coach Dick Bennett has made it no secret, he likes to win with defense. The uglier the game the better. The slower the game the better. If it were a horse race, Bennett’s boys would likely ride a 15-year-old pack mule.
But somehow, some way, Bennett usually ends up riding that sluggish old jackass to victory.
It ain’t pretty, but it’s effective.
At 9-8, 1-4 Big Ten, Bennett’s fifth season at Wisconsin hasn’t been real spectacular. After all, this is a team that tied for third in the Big Ten last season and finished with a school-record 22 wins.
Granted, Bennett lost Sean Mason (16.8 points per game) and Ty Calderwood (9.3 ppg), but Big Ten defensive player of the year Mike Kelley and 1999 starters Mark Vershaw and Andy Kowske are back.
The duo of Vershaw (12.3 ppg) and Kowske (10.1 ppg) are the only Badgers who average double figures. But that’s the way Bennett likes it.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect with the way coach Bennett’s teams play and what they do,” Gophers coach Dan Monson said. “The thing about his teams is that they’re very similar every year. They play the same year in and year out.”
Peruse the Big Ten statistics and two things are for certain: Wisconsin will be near the top in scoring defense, and near the bottom in scoring offense.
This year is no different. They give up 56 ppg, which is first in the conference, and score 60.6 ppg, which puts them in 10th place, ahead of only Northwestern (51.7 ppg). They’re the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the Big Ten.
“It’s hard for me to really pinpoint a ‘Wisconsin type’ of game, because they are pretty unique in what they do,” Monson said. “I think you’ve got to get ahead of them, because if you’re playing from behind in Madison they’re going to dictate the tempo and they’re very good at that.
“It’s just like any other road game. You’ve got to get ahead so that you can have success with what you want to do. I think that’s a priority against Wisconsin more than anybody, it’s seizing a lead and making them play from behind.”
This is the Badgers’ second full season in the Kohl Center, during which time they are 18-3 at home. The Gophers’ only trip there was a 61-50 loss last January. In that game, Wisconsin outscored Minnesota 15-3 from the free-throw line and it’s obvious the charity stripe continues to be a thorn in Monson’s side.
Averaging a league-low 59 percent from the free-throw line — and after Wednesday night’s pathetic 7-for-22 effort at the line — it was no surprise the team spent a lot of time on free throws in Thursday’s practice.
The first thing Monson did at the beginning of practice was have each player shoot one free throw. If they missed, they had to run.
Only three players made their first one.
ùMonson said there has been no change in forward Kyle Sanden’s status. The junior co-captain is still being held out of practice and games until the Big Ten clears him to play.
ùThe University said that approximately 600 tickets are available for each of the remaining Big Ten home games. Half of the tickets are in the lower level behind the student section. Tickets are $25 each and they are singles or partially-obstructed pairs.
— Staff Reporter Mark Heller contributed to this story.

Michael Dougherty covers men’s basketball and welcomes comments at [email protected]