In his four years of college basketball, Kirk Penney has traveled all over the country. Compounded with the fact that he’s a native of New Zealand, traveling has simply become a fact of Penney’s life. So maybe this is why the travel-hardened Penney has spent his road trips this season rooming with freshman forward Alando Tucker.
“Actually, the coaches put us together,” Tucker said. “I guess they saw something and figured he could help me out, just give me some advice and some tips on how to do things on the road, because road trips are hard.”
Tucker said the coaches paired up he and Penney when the road list was put together at the start of the season. Routine has been the most valuable asset Penney has imparted to Tucker.
“[He’s taught me] how to relax before games and some of the different things you do before games,” Tucker said. “After we eat, he’ll just stretch and try to relax before [the game]. He’ll turn on a channel that relaxes you for basketball.”
Tucker said pre-game hotel programming often includes the Discovery Channel and cartoons. His personal favorite is “Tom and Jerry.”
“He’s just showed me some of the things to expect on the road,” Tucker said. “That really helped me out a lot, especially coming this far into the season.”
Judging by his 16 points, including 6-6 from the free-throw line, Tucker was certainly relaxed and prepared on the Badgers’ road trip to Minnesota over the weekend.
High-Low Game: It’s a recurring theme for the Badgers to be severely outsized in Big Ten contests this season. Last Sunday against Minnesota was no different, as the Gophers played four players 6-foot-8 or taller. Wisconsin played just two, Mike Wilkinson at 6-foot-8 and Andreas Helmigk at 6-foot-9. Yet UW’s starting forwards, Wilkinson and the 6-foot-5 Tucker, still managed to combine for 27 points, largely because of precise execution in the high-low game.
“There’s a lot of different ways (to run the high-low game),” UW head coach Bo Ryan said at Monday’s press conference. “It depends on what the offense is looking for. Not everybody looks for the same thing in a high-low. Some people look to shoot the perimeter more, some people look to hit the post more.”
In fact, Sunday’s game stats might deceive someone into thinking Wisconsin was bigger than Minnesota, as the Badgers outrebounded the Gophers 25-22 and shot 21 free throws to Minnesota’s five. But that type of free-throw disparity has been a characteristic of UW’s season. Heading into Sunday’s game, they had made 57 more free throws than their opponents had even attempted. Their opponents had shot an average of just 12.9 free throws per game, second fewest in the country.
“It comes from the first time you meet them, the first time you talk to them, the first time you do anything for them,” Ryan said of his team’s physical play and determination. “It comes from knowing that we have their best interest at heart. It comes from watching a university, a coaching staff, back the players up and support the players, not bad mouth them, not play mind games with them, talk a lot to them about who to trust, who to listen to when you have some other people who are trying to take their pot shots.”
Big Ten Race: The race for the Big Ten title is down to three teams. Wisconsin is 11-4, Illinois is 10-4 and Michigan is 9-5. The Badgers have the inside track, and a win over Illinois Wednesday night in Madison would give them the outright title.
But if the Badgers lose, they’ll have to sit and watch as Illinois and Michigan play one final game. The Illini would take the outright title with a win over Wisconsin and a win at home over Minnesota March 9. But if they lose to the Gophers, they’ll be tied with the Badgers at season’s end.
Michigan needs more help. In addition to winning their final two games, at Penn State and home against Purdue, they need Illinois to beat Wisconsin and lose to Minnesota. That would create a three-way tie atop the standings, with Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan all 11-5.