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March 8, 2012

Badgers look to end skid



MADISON - It's been a long time since the Badgers won a game in the Big Ten Tournament. Their 36-33 loss to Penn State in 2011 stretched their losing streak to three years after they lost to Ohio State in 2009 and Illinois in 2010.

In fact, the Badgers' steak is long enough where no player on the roster has won a Big Ten Tournament game, even though the Badgers have earned a bye in each of the last three years. But even though the Badgers haven't won a Big Ten Tournament game since 2008, when they last won the tournament outright, the Badgers aren't letting their more recent shortcomings affect them this season.

"You can't change the past," sophomore guard Ben Brust said after practice Wednesday, "So we've just got to go work on getting ready for this one."

They can't afford to focus on last year or the year before, because they have an entirely new slate of challenges facing them this year. The Big Ten looks different every year around tournament time, when every team gets a fresh slate to re-introduce themselves to the conference and the nation as a whole.

But that doesn't mean the Badgers are ignoring their more recent letdowns altogether. The Badgers got a boost from the members of their coaching staff, many of whom were around for the Badgers' last run of success in the tournament. Junior forward Jared Berggren told reporters Thursday that strength coach Scott Hettenbach showed the team his 2008 championship ring to show them that they've had success in the tournament before.

"It's something that we've definitely mentioned," Berggren said. "That's our goal, that's our mindset going into this weekend, is that we're going to go down there and try to win a championship."

Even if the Badgers go down to Indianapolis with that championship-mindset, there is an element of uncertainty that comes as part of the Big Ten Tournament. After earning a first round bye as the No. 4 seed, the Badgers won't find out which team they'll be playing on Friday until late Thursday afternoon.

The Badgers will face either fifth-seeded Indiana or twelfth-seeded Penn State, and that uncertainty has definitely had an effect on how the Badgers practice. They've prepared for both Indiana and Penn State evenly since closing their regular season on Sunday, and the Badgers know that in tournament time, it's anybody's ball game.

"Obviously Indiana is the likely favorite as the higher seed, but Penn State's got a really good team, and Indiana does too so we've just got to be ready for whichever," senior point guard Jordan Taylor said. "That's the fun of tournament time."

But no matter if the Badgers end up facing the Hoosiers or the Nittany Lions on Friday, they'll mostly just have to focus on playing their game, and controlling what they can control.

"That's kind of what coach (Bo Ryan) has said the last few days, that at this time the focus has to be more about what we're going to do," Berggren said. "You can't worry too much about your opponent, because you're not going to know until the night before.

"We obviously prepare for both teams, and we'll be ready for whoever we get matched up with. But at the same time we're just kind of focusing on what we need to do, executing our stuff, and just continuing to play well."

The Badgers will play either Indiana or Penn State on Friday afternoon, 25 minutes after Michigan State plays either Iowa or Illinois. The game is scheduled to air on ESPN.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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