Wisconsin, citing its shooters, is well past January struggles

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

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Bo Ryan has the Badgers streaking, again. (USATSI)

A month ago, Wisconsin was reeling. The Badgers were mired in a stretch of five losses in six games, including one baffling defeat to Northwestern.

The narrative was alive and well: Wisconsin isn't that good, nor will they ever be.

Fast-forward to Saturday's thrilling 79-74 victory over No. 15 Iowa in a raucous Carver Arena, and No. 16 Wisconsin is mired, just as deeply, in the thick of the Big Ten title chase. That's what a five-game winning streak – including three wins over Top-15 opponents – will do for you.

How to explain the consisently inconsistent?

“We were in a little bit of a shooting slump," Bo Ryan said. "Ted Williams had them too. Not shooting slumps, but batting slumps. DiMaggio didn't always hit in 50-some straight games. That's the only way I can say it."

On Saturday, they went all Teddy Ballgame, draining five first-half 3-pointers to stake a nine-point halftime lead over Iowa. Even little-used Bronson Koenig contributed, tying his career-high with 10 first-half points.

Wisconsin shot a blistering 57 percent (16-of-28) from the field in the first, completely taking Iowa out of its preferred transition game.

Over the five-game winning streak, the Badgers haven't shot less than 45 percent in any of their games, and they look like the hottest team in the Big Ten, recently securing wins over Michigan and Michigan State.

Bo Ryan's teams have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten. That unbelievable streak is going to continue this year. Death. Taxes. Bo Ryan. Might as well get it tattooed.

The Badgers are now 22-5 overall (9-5 Big Ten) after extinguishing a furious second-half rally from the Hawkeyes. Iowa, after shooting 42 percent in the first half, opened the second on an 8-1 run to close the gap to just two points. Another 9-0 Iowa run midway through the half gave the Hawkeyes a 54-51 lead before a huge defensive lapse halted all momentum.

With Iowa in a zone defense and the shot clock showing one second left, Badger SG Josh Gasser drained a 3-pointer from the right perimeter that completely broke Iowa's back.

“Josh knows how to read zones and positioning. He slid up the side, got space and Iowa was flying around a little bit. They probably had us right where they wanted us,” Ryan said. “That was a tough shot, but he made it.”

Said Iowa guard Mike Gesell: “He got the open look because we weren't rotating well. We had a few mental lapses down the stretch and they killed us basically. That was a big-time shot he hit.”

Wisconsin opened the season a program-best 16-0 only to hit the skids in mid-January. Now, in third place in the Big Ten, this team appears to be past those shooting doldrums.

“People might have been writing us off, but we've got a little roll going right now,” said Sam Dekker, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds on Saturday. As active as the sophomore was, he wasn't even the Badgers' biggest catalyst.

That would be Frank Kaminsky, whose inside-out game makes him a terror to defend. Kaminsky finished with 21 points and seven rebounds – eight more points than his season average.

"Frank's one of the guys doing a heck of a job on his learning curve," Ryan said of his mobile big man.

Frank the Tank's back in school, and the Badgers are going streaking.

 
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