A year ago, Wisconsin sat at 18-10 overall with a 9-7 record in Big Ten play. The Badgers did not receive a single vote in either poll on March 2, 2009. UW’s tournament r?sum? was weak, to say the least.
Now, the cardinal and white boast a 21-7 record with an 11-5 conference mark. Wisconsin ranks No. 15 in the AP poll and the Badgers are a lock for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks.
According to head coach Bo Ryan, the credit for that improvement goes primarily to his pair of senior guards, Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes.
“I thought they were in better shape when we started in September, and that has to come from somewhere, some place, and it isn’t always seniors, but I think those two definitely have led the way,” Ryan said Monday in his weekly press conference. “I think they’ve seen some results. They want to see more. That’s why it’s tough on senior day talking about where we are. But I think with what they’ve contributed, they have more in them.”
As Ryan mentioned, tonight’s game against the Iowa Hawkeyes is Senior Night. Bohannon and Hughes will be honored as they play at the Kohl Center for the final time.
While he did not take all the credit, Bohannon agreed with his head coach. A native of Marion, Iowa, he said the entire team was motivated by the Badgers’ disappointing 2008-09 season.
“As soon as we lost that Xavier game, we were ready for next year,” Bohannon said. “As soon as we got back, we were ready to build upon what we had coming back and do what we needed to do in the summer to get where we wanted to be.”
That motivation led to what Bohannon characterized as a “great offseason” for the Badgers. After a strong offseason, Wisconsin started the season hot, going 17-5 with three victories over teams ranked No. 6 or higher.
UW had cooled off of late, losing two of three before winning its last two, including a 32-point road win over the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall.
With only two games remaining in the regular season, the Badgers hope to carry that momentum into tonight’s home matchup with the Hawkeyes.
“It’s definitely important to keep winning,” junior forward Jon Leuer said. “This is the time of year where you want to get some momentum going and string together as many wins as you can. This is the time where you want to be playing your best basketball.”
As Wisconsin looks to keep its winning streak intact going into next week’s Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, the Badgers know they cannot look past their only matchup this season with Iowa.
Unlike UW, the Hawkeyes went from bad a year ago (15-17, 5-13) to worse this season (10-19, 4-12), with the loss of two of their top three scorers in guards Jake Kelly and Jeff Peterson. The team’s leading returning scorer from last season, sophomore guard Matt Gatens, leads the Hawkeyes in scoring with 12.7 points per game.
For Bohannon, as an Iowa native, the game has added importance beyond Senior Night. In six games against his father’s alma mater, Bohannon has averaged six points per game. His best performance against the Hawkeyes — 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting — came in the Wisconsin’s home win over Iowa last season.
With one last shot at the school he grew up just over 30 miles from, Bohannon’s final game will likely have extra meaning to it, especially if he performs the way he has lately.
“It’s kind of cool to get to play them because I know a lot of the guys on the team — I’ve known Gatens for a long time,” he said. “But when we’re on the floor, we’re just [like any] other opponents. You can’t think of them as anything else.”
Iowa has struggled throughout the 2009-10 season, despite playing then-No. 3 Texas to a 38-38 tie at the half in November and leading then-No. 4 Purdue 27-26 through one period.
Despite the Hawkeyes’ rather unimpressive r?sum?, the Badgers insist they are not approaching the game differently than they would any other game this season.
“We just have to go over what Iowa does and stick to what we do,” sophomore guard Jordan Taylor said. “We just listen to the coaches and what they tell us about them. But I expect to win; we expect to win every game.”
A common theme among the players and Ryan was a focus on ensuring their season has as many games remaining as they can.
The only way to do that is to keep winning.
“We’ve made a lot of memories, but there’s still a lot more to be made,” Bohannon said. “[We] really feel like we can do a lot this year. Hopefully make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA Tournament and do the things we’ve wanted to accomplish since the end of last year.”