If there’s any place the Badgers would probably prefer not to go once a year, it would be Mackey Arena, a place Wisconsin has won just three times since it opened in 1968.
At one point, UW went to West Lafayette, Ind., 29 times in 32 years and returned home with a loss in each of those 29 trips before winning in 2005.
During the Bo Ryan era, Wisconsin is just 1-5 in games played in Mackey Arena. While the Badgers are better against Purdue in Madison, the Boilermakers, at 7-6, are the only team with a winning record against UW in Ryan’s eight-plus years at the helm.
Still, Ryan is not one to focus on the location of the game. All the UW head coach cares about is his team playing its game, regardless of the opponent or the location.
“I don’t ever think about the place,” Ryan said. “I never let that muddy anything I ever think about to prepare for a game. I let other people do that. I don’t get into that.”
Considering the Badgers’ last road win over the Boilermakers came five years ago on Jan. 5, 2005, it would be hard not to think about the location of tonight’s game.
None of the current players on the UW roster have experienced a victory at Mackey Arena, and none of the current Boilermakers has ever lost at home to the Badgers.
It could be the elevated court or the wide sideline, but they have that in Minnesota, too. Maybe it’s the darkness of the arena, or the crowd noise. Whatever it is, the Badgers clearly have struggled to find success at Mackey.
“Anytime going into their place it changes the game,” junior guard/forward Tim Jarmusz said. “Their atmosphere is a lot different than ours. That place gets loud — they have great fan support.
“They can really disrupt some players.”
One thing in the Badgers’ favor is the fact they’ve already beaten Purdue this season.
In that win, however, junior forward Jon Leuer crashed hard to the floor and fractured a bone in his left wrist.
Leuer had surgery the following week and remains out indefinitely.
Though he was ineffective offensively because of his injured wrist, Leuer pulled down 10 rebounds against the Boilermakers — all on the defensive end — in the winning effort.
Now, without the 6-foot-10 native of Long Lake, Minn., the Badgers will likely have a difficult time inside against forward/center JaJuan Johnson, who also stands at 6-foot-10.
While UW faced similar difficulty against Ohio State and Dallas Lauderdale, tonight’s game will likely be the strongest challenge for Wisconsin during Leuer’s absence.
“I think it will; it will be one of the toughest tests we face without Jon,” Jarmusz said. “They do have some good bigs who can do some good things, but I think we’ve got some guys that can make some plays and take them out of their game, too.”
When the Badgers beat the Boilermakers on Jan. 9, it was their guard play that made the difference as seniors Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes had 20 and 14 points, respectively, while sophomore Jordan Taylor led the team with a career-high 23 points.
Bohannon, Hughes and Taylor will need to perform as well or better this time around, especially with the Badgers’ newfound lack of size.
Looking at the way Wisconsin has played in the last two weeks, the Badgers’ guard trio will need to connect on more than the 27.5 percent of 3-point attempts UW has made in the past four games.
Bohannon agreed, noting that shooting 30-for-109 over the last four games and 10-of-33 in the last game against Northwestern was not getting the job done, despite going 3-1 in the same stretch.
“I hope that’s not where we’re at because we’re shooting — in that last game from three — well below 33 percent,” he said. “I think we’re a much better team than that. I think our numbers show that, too.
“We’ve had stretches in a game where all of us are not hitting, and then all of a sudden one person will hit and hit four or five in a row,” Bohannon continued. “It’s good that we have players that have the confidence and the grit to keep shooting the ball and know that the percentages play in our favor and we’re a good shooting team.”
If you ask Taylor, he’ll tell you the Badgers do not need to change much to get a win at Purdue, something they were unable to do at Ohio State on Jan. 16.
One thing he thought they did need to do, though, was avoid firing up so many threes.
“Just stick to what we do,” he said. “Maybe play a little better defense. … Move the ball, be aggressive and not start settling for too many outside shots.”