Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Owens adds depth as young Badgers prepare to face Illini

Surprisingly, third place in the Big Ten is on the line Wednesday night at Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill. That’s nothing new or unexpected for the Illini, however. If someone would have told them they would be battling to climb above Wisconsin after six games in league play, last year’s defending champions may just have had a good laugh. However, no one is laughing now as third-place Wisconsin attempts to take a two-game lead on the Illini and solid control of third place.

Wisconsin’s emergence as a contender in the Big Ten has been the result of an outstanding 8-2 record since Dec. 15. Key to the Wisconsin run has been the maturation of the team’s younger players and a solid contribution from the team’s short bench.

Perhaps the most impressive and unexpected contribution has been from sophomore guard Freddie Owens. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard out of Milwaukee was recruited by Dick Bennett and did see time as a true freshman in what would certainly be described as an up-and-down year. Owens averaged just one point per contest while playing sparingly. It was a lackluster freshman year, to say the least.

Owens, however, has been a diamond in the rough for Bo Ryan’s Badgers this season. Owens’ scoring average is up by 11 points from last year to a productive 12 points. The increased production has just been a matter of keeping his patience and playing more maturely.

“I realize that I’m not going to go out there every night and score 15 or 20 points,” said Owens. “As long as I am patient and let the game come to me, I know I will be all right.”

While Owens is indeed one of the most improved players on the team, he realizes that he definitely can get better. The coaches also realize that his potential has not been met yet. This is perhaps why Owens is the favorite target of Bo Ryan’s running commentary during practice, but Owens recognizes when Ryan questions a decision he makes during practice. It is a positive thing, and he takes it that way in order to learn.

“Coach Ryan is a great teacher. As long as I know it is for the good of the team, then there is nothing to worry about,” said Owens. “All I can do is to listen because he has so much knowledge. That is the beauty of his coaching style, and when a mistake is made he wants you to learn from it.”

As a backup, Owens has apparently learned how to make the most of his playing time and get the team on the right track when he enters the game. Perhaps more important than any statistic is the energy that Owens brings to the floor each time he gets into the game.

“I just try to bring energy to the floor,” said Owens. “Whatever we need; defense, rebounds, assists, points, whatever can help the team. When I’m on the bench and I’m getting ready to come on, I just focus on what I have to do to help the team.”

Energy is something that Owens is full of, and he has channeled that this season in order to add to his game. Early in the year Owens displayed promise with his ability to penetrate to the hoop and make the spectacular shots, but struggled to knock down the perimeter shot that would make his game more complete.

These struggles hampered the team and Owens’ play earlier this year. As a result, Owens worked with assistant coach Tony Bennett after practice in order to add range to his jumper. The extra work paid off for Owens, who broke out of a three-point shooting slump and hit two threes against Purdue.

“Staying after and shooting really helped a lot. I was in a terrible slump where my shots weren’t dropping,” said Owens. “But I kept confident and I just worked at it and it paid off.”

Confidence is something that the left-hander has plenty of, and his hot play may be required to sink a game-winning basket at Illinois in the same way that he hit a runner in the lane to give Wisconsin the lead against Michigan State. Owens’ basket was the deciding factor in Wisconsin, ending State’s winning streak.

“Freddie Owens is one of those guys that has just made big shots for us in numerous games, especially down the stretch,” said Kirk Penney. “Looking back after the game, you think maybe if that play didn’t happen, we may not have gotten the result that we may have wanted. What he has done has been great for the team.”

Big shots will be the order of the evening for the Badgers, who are facing perhaps the most talented team in the conference in the Illini. The Illini are led by Frank Williams, who was an all-American and Big Ten Player of the Year last season. He returns this season and is a nominee for the 2002 Wooden Award.

Yet the Badgers are not lacking confidence. They beat Illinois at the Kohl Center 72-66, a feat that may be difficult to repeat on the road. At home, the Badgers held Williams to 12 points on a dismal four of 15 shooting performance. The Badgers realize it will take an incredible effort to repeat that defensive performance, especially with Illinois possibly playing with two players that were missing from action earlier in the season. Forwards Robert Archibald may be returning from an ACL injury, while Damir Krupalija will also play after missing time with a partial stress fracture.

“We just have to play hard-nosed defense,” said Owens. “We can’t be intimidated. They are players just like us, and we have to approach it that way.”

Illinois leads the all-time series against the Badgers 99 to 64, and the numbers are worse at Assembly Hall, where 16,450 fans will be on hand doing their best to make sure the Badgers lose. Last season the Badgers came within a heartbeat of beating the Illini before Marcus Griffin hit a shot in the lane with less than one second remaining. Still, nothing should be looked at as impossible for the surprising Badgers, who have very real aspirations of a top-three finish in the Big Ten.

“I think a victory would leave us at a pretty handy place at third in the conference and drop Illinois off,” said Penney. “Obviously the Big Ten standings would speak for themselves, but if it is to be, we’ll do all that we can to make sure it comes about.”

If Wisconsin wins tonight’s game, then they will be all alone in third place in conference and hot on the heels of Indiana. As unlikely as that may sound, if Owens and the rest of the Badgers can maintain their focus despite the tough road conditions of Assembly Hall, they may surprise Big Ten followers yet again this evening.

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