By TOM LEA
MADISON – Gathering themselves after a major body blow at Michigan State, one that could proverbially serve as the knockout punch to what could have been a Big Ten championship caliber season, a handful of Wisconsin assistant coaches examined what went wrong.
In a parking lot of all places.
“We were talking and nitpicking about what we need to do,” assistant Lamont Paris said. “We’ve won seven of nine in the best league in America, probably. But as your expectations get higher it’s hard to settle for seven out of nine.”
Especially when the team had a chance to move up in the Big Ten standings with a win in East Lansing last time out. It’s one thing to lose to a legitimate top 10 team inside their home arena, it’s another to get essentially blown out without putting forth a solid team effort.
“I don’t think it was the loss within the scope of (the standings),” sophomore guard Josh Gasser said. “I think it was more just the way we played. We didn’t really show up. We didn’t have that sense of urgency and we didn’t play well. When you look at the bigger picture and the standings that makes it worse.
“Anytime you lose a game against a team like that when you’re getting prepared for days and days for the game and you don’t play well it’s definitely a sour feeling.”
Such is life in a very deep Big Ten conference, the same league the Spartans sit alone atop the league standings with just over two weeks left in regular season play.
Wisconsin, playing host to Penn State Sunday afternoon, is currently two games behind MSU — essentially three if you count the tiebreakers — with five regular season games to played.
The chances of winning the Big Ten title that looked intriguing during UW’s earlier six-game Big Ten winning streak are losing life by the second. The pulse is still there, but it’s faint.
A win against a Nittany Lion team while playing well would be a solid starting point for this team, now that it might have some of the pressure alleviated following such a disappointing loss last time out.
“You just take what you can from that Michigan State game,” senior point guard Jordan Taylor said. “Maybe we’ll see them again in the Big Ten tournament and maybe we’ll stow it away until then. Otherwise it’s something you take forward to Penn State. They’re not a slouch defensively.
“I know they’re probably not as good statistically as Michigan State, but everybody seems to pose different threats defensively.”