MILWAUKEE — Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer and the rest of No. 13 Wisconsin saw firsthand how difficult it was to beat undefeated No. 1 Ohio State — in football — and the raucous celebration that ensued.
“Sometimes you get caught up in the moment,” Keaton Nankivil said.
The entire basketball team was there in October, watching the Badgers beat the Buckeyes 31-18 and spark a special season that ended in the Rose Bowl.
“That was crazy. It was as good an atmosphere as you’re going to get,” Leuer said. “Our fans were great that night, and we’re hoping they’re going to be the same way when we play them.”
Now, the basketball Badgers (18-5, 8-3 Big Ten) come into Saturday’s contest against top-ranked and unbeaten Ohio State (24-0, 11-0) in Madison with a game plan that sounds pretty similar: start fast and keep the intensity high.
“Against a team like Ohio State, you can’t get in a hole, otherwise it’s tough to dig your way out,” said Leuer, averaging 19.4 points and 7.4 rebounds. “The main thing is just to get off to a good start. But if you don’t, you have to be able to handle that adversity and climb back from it.”
The entire state of Wisconsin, still delirious from the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl victory, is entering basketball season at the right time with this matchup.
If Wisconsin succeeds, it will be only the second program to knock off the No. 1 football and men’s basketball teams from the same school in the same academic year. Florida did it, also against the Buckeyes, in 2006-07.
Wisconsin is 1-19 all time against No. 1 teams, the lone win coming over Ohio State in 1962. Things will be rocking for this matchup at the always sold-out Kohl Center, where the Badgers have won 16 in a row and are 149-11 at home under coach Bo Ryan. The marks are certainly impressive to Ryan’s colleague.
“There’s a lot of people who can say they played No. 1, but there’s not a lot who say they beat No. 1. One element at Wisconsin that is different than a lot of places is we stick to what we believe in,” Wisconsin football coach Bret Bielema told The Associated Press, comparing his team to Ryan’s. “A lot of times when people have setbacks or failures they try to be gimmicky or gadgety, trying to find a new answer. All we try to do is go back and try to do better what we did before.”
Cue Ryan’s swing system, an opponent’s nightmare because of its possession-by-possession mentality that lets players wait and wait and wait for the right shot, usually down to the last tick of the shot clock.
Impatient defenses tend to take risks, especially when trailing, and Wisconsin loves to exploit them.
“They’re not a team that you want to play with a one-day turnaround if at all possible, because they’re so good, they’re so complex,” Buckeyes coach Thad Matta said.
Good thing Ohio State has been idle since Sunday’s 82-69 win at Minnesota.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, survived 62-59 in overtime at Iowa on Wednesday, when Taylor played 44 of 45 minutes and Leuer and Nankivil played 42 minutes apiece. Taylor, averaging 17.7 points and carrying a 3.89 assist-to-turnover ratio, took Thursday’s practice off, but insisted he felt fine and that there was nothing wrong.
The Badgers will need everyone against Ohio State, which has a strong veteran core of David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale, as well as electrifying freshman Jared Sullinger.
“It’s obvious to this point that Ohio State has separated itself from the rest of the league,” Ryan said. “They’ve earned that.”
No one has figured out Sullinger, who is averaging 18 points and 10.3 rebounds and was mentioned 231 times in the Buckeyes’ pregame notes, way more than any of the veterans.
What impresses the Badgers about Sullinger the most?
“The number of things he can do on the court,” said Nankivil, who along with Leuer will have the unenviable task of slowing the 6-foot-9 forward. “He can shoot a little bit, his footwork is so good, and just his all-around game — defense, offense, rebounding — everything about him. He’s an impressive player.”
Maybe the missing piece to perfection.
Besides the 24-0 start, Ohio State has won 18 straight Big Ten games and will depart Madison with at least a two-game conference lead no matter the outcome. Wisconsin would move into second place with a win, closing the gap with the best team in the nation and proving nobody’s perfect.
“There’s a little extra incentive, but any time you step on the court you have the same motivations. You’re just hungry and you want to win,” Leuer said. “That’s how we’re going to play.”
AP freelance writer Jordan Schelling in Madison, Wis. contributed to this report.