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ESPN Wisconsin Blogs - Zach Heilprin

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Badgers football: Focus shifts to LSU

Apr 12, 2014 -- 11:18pm
Photo/Getty Images
Vince Biegel and the rest of the Badgers are looking forward to their game with LSU to open the season.
 
MADISON - There will be a time this summer that members of the University of Wisconsin football team will hit a wall. The long hours in the weight room will seem endless and the conditioning drills they get put through might become tiresome. Oh, the strength and conditioning staff will come up with new and inventive competitions to try and push through those times, but perhaps the most effective will be just pointing to the first game on the Badgers schedule. That should be all it takes, because when they do glance at it, they’ll see LSU at the top, one of the biggest opening games in the program’s history.
 
“We’re super excited about this LSU game,” sophomore Vince Biegel said after the Badgers annual spring game on Saturday. “Not just on defense but on offense as well. This is a great time for us to show off the program. (A) great time for us to show (out) as a unit, how we’ve progressed. I think we’ll be ready to go for LSU.”
 
The game against the SEC powerhouse is the first of three-straight season openers against, what many consider, the best conference in the country. After playing the Tigers on Aug. 30 in Houston, they’ll open with Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington in 2015 and face LSU at Lambeau Field to begin the 2016 season.
 
But it’s the game at Reliant Stadium that will serve UW well as they go through the next several months. While much has been made of Melvin Gordon revealing that he has a poster on his bedroom wall of the national championship trophy, it’s not alone. There is another picture and it’s the logo of the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff with the Wisconsin and LSU helmets on it.
 
“It just reminds me you can’t lack,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a great team ahead of us. First game. I know they’re going to be good. They’re going to come out ready. It’s not the end of the season where guys are worn and broken down. It’s the first game. Those guys are ready to go so I just got to keep motivated. It just reminds me to grind.”
 
He’s not alone. Junior Joe Schobert mentioned the game without even being asked and he later expanded on his feelings.
 
“It’s such a huge game,” the outside linebacker said. “Everybody, already, is getting psyched for it and it’s four months away. You can definitely tell people are getting excited to go play them down there.”
 
UW’s experience with teams from the SEC hasn’t been great. They are just 2-5 in their last seven meetings, including a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1.
 
“I call it one of those games that growing up as a kid you always wished and dreamed to play those types of teams,” sophomore Sojourn Shelton said. “For instance, LSU, Alabama, Ohio State. That’s just another game; it’s a childhood game. The way we went out last season, SEC, it’s just another chance to get back at it.”
 
With a schedule void of Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan or Penn State, the game against the Tigers may serve as UW’s lone chance to make a statement on a national level, something they were unable to do a year ago.
 
“We’re just looking for a great year,” tackle Rob Havenstein said. “Last year we were really good, but we didn’t make that step to great and Coach (Gary) Andersen talks about it all the time. That’s something we always want to do, instead of being a good team, be a great team.”
 
That process got underway during winter conditioning and spring practice. Now it transitions to the next four months and getting ready for a trip south.
 
“You can take no days off,” cornerback Devin Gaulden said. “You go to sleep some nights right now, in the spring time, thinking about, ‘Man, when we open up next time on the field it’s against LSU.’ It’s exciting and it puts a lot of pressure on you to really hone in and focus in each and every day.”

Badgers football: Spring Game preview

Apr 12, 2014 -- 12:19am
 
MADISON - The University of Wisconsin will wrap up spring practice Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium with the annual spring game.
 
The first half will feature 40 plays of offense versus defense with no tackling, with the second part of the afternoon made up of two 15 minute quarters where there will be live tackling.
 
It gets underway at 3 p.m. and costs $5 to get in.
 
Here are a few players to watch:
 
1) Quarterback D.J. Gillins
 
The true freshman has been on campus for less than four months but figures to get plenty of opportunities in Saturday’s game. He’s had a rollercoaster of a spring showing some of the scrambling ability that made him one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, but also some decision making and mechanics that remind you that he should be enjoying the final months of his senior year in Jacksonville, Fla. Though few first-year players have made significant contributions, let alone a quarterback, UW coach Gary Andersen wants and expects Gillins to make every effort to be the starting quarterback this fall.
 
“That will be his mindset,” Andersen said. “He’ll compete down those lines. And I would ask that of every kid on the team. D.J.’s excited about his progress, I believe. He knows he’s got a lot to work on and a long way to go to be a starter at this level, but he will also be excited about accepting the responsibility. “
 
Joel Stave won’t take part due to lingering shoulder soreness, so junior Tanner McEvoy will take a majority of first-team reps, with sophomore Bart Houston and Gillins also seeing time.
 
2) Cornerback Devin Gaulden
 
Finally healthy after multiple leg injuries, the junior has been a big bright spot for the coaching staff this spring. Coming in they liked their top two corners – junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton – but they desperately needed to find a third one. Last year they used more safeties than corners when they went to nickel and dime packages and it led to some mismatches in the passing game. But Gaulden’s emergence gets more speed on the field and allows Hillary to move inside when they go to five defensive backs.
 
“Once he got healthy it became very clear, just moving through the drills, that he was a very talented young man,” Andersen said of Gaulden, who played as a true freshmen in 2011. “He’s got what you look for. He’s got good hips. He can change direction. He gets in and out of the breaks really well for a corner.
 
“And then secondly is just the way he handled the scheme coming back from not being involved other than mentally and you learned he had prepared himself. Even when he was injured he was paying attention. And that’s a credit to that young man for doing that. He’s continued to have some success. It’s a great story but we need him.”
 
3) Defensive end Chikwe Obasih
 
UW’s scout team defensive player of the year last season, Obasih has continued to impress this spring. Andersen said if the season opened tomorrow, the redshirt freshman would be in the staring lineup. Being a part of the movement to a faster and quicker front-seven, the 260-pound Obasih has developed different parts of his game that weren’t necessary while playing at Brookfield East. 
 
“High school kids, a lot of the time, defensive linemen, they are so dominant and they are so strong that they have a tendency to really play high because they can,” Andersen said. “They can get away with it but he’s developed pad level, developed the ability play with his hands, controls his feet very well and now his mind is clear. The waters have calmed, so his ability to go out and react to what is coming his way after spring break really developed and gave him an opportunity to be in a position to make plays.
 
“He was the toughest guy last year on the scout team day in and day out as far as just coming out and getting knocked around as light as he was then and just kept fighting and battling so he has the toughest (that) we learned he had a year ago and has just continued to grow.”
 
4) Center Michael Deiter
 
One of seven early enrollees, Deiter was thrust into the starting center position from the day camp opened. That was due to sophomore Dan Voltz and senior Dallas Lewallen being held out of spring as they recover from injuries sustained last season. At 6-foot-5, 310-pounds, Deiter is physically farther along then most offensive linemen his age. But at center, it’s more than just the physical. It’s about being mentally strong and getting everyone lined up the way they should. And the coaching staff has had nothing but positive things to say about Deiter in that respect.
 
“I think the number one thing I’m most impressed with right now is the ability for him to absorb the scheme and execute the scheme,” offensive line coach T.J. Woods said. “Know how to get everything directed. Know how to get everybody targeted with all the stuff that we do. That’s a huge, huge bonus. To me that’s the first step, knowing what you have to do and then you can start thinking about how to do it. And I think he’s starting to develop that now. I think he’s starting to think about his technique a little bit. He’s not on overload as much.”
 
Players that won't take part or will be limited:
 
RB Melvin Gordon (no live tackling)
RB Corey Clement (no live tackling)
C Dan Voltz (injury)
C/LG Dallas Lewallen (injury)
RT Rob Havenstein (limited)
QB Joel Stave (injury)
WR Jordan Fredrick (injury)
WR Alex Erickson (injury)
WR Connor Cummins (injury)
WR Rob Wheelwright (injury)
S Leo Musso (injury)
 

Badgers football: Stave done for spring

Apr 08, 2014 -- 11:14pm
 
MADISON - The quarterback battle that was expected to be the story of spring practice for the University of Wisconsin never quite materialized. And on Tuesday it effectively ended when it was reported, first by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, that Joel Stave had been shutdown for the rest of spring practice due to a lingering shoulder injury.
 
The junior got hurt when he failed to slide and took a big shot from a South Carolina defender in the Capital One Bowl on Jan. 1. He was knocked from the game and in a sling for several days after. Earlier this spring he said it was a minor A.C. joint issue but it was severe enough that he didn’t start throwing until the first week of camp. Stave was limited before spring break but he had taken, along with junior Tanner McEvoy, a majority of the reps with the first-team offense since being cleared. However, on Tuesday, Stave told reporters that he had an MRI on Monday night before a decision was made for him not to take part in the final three workouts this week, including Saturday’s annual Spring Game at 3 p.m.
 
When he spoke with the media last week, Stave indicated the shoulder wasn’t 100 percent.
 
“I’m continuing to feel better. It’s taking a little while,” he said. “An injury to your throwing shoulder is something you don’t necessarily want to deal with but it’s something I have to deal with. I’m taking it kind of slow but continuing to get better.”
 
Stave has had a history of shoulder problems. He suffered a broken collarbone against Michigan State in 2012 that led to him missing the final four games of the year and limiting him to a two-play appearance in the Rose Bowl against Stanford.
 
Without Stave taking part this week, it means more time for McEvoy, true freshman D.J. Gillins and redshirt sophomore Bart Houston.

Badgers basketball: Way too early Top 25

Apr 08, 2014 -- 1:10am
 
ARLINGTON, Texas - The quickest way to get over a tough loss -- and that's exactly what Wisconsin's 74-73 loss to Kentucky on Saturday night was -- is to look to towards the future. And for the Badgers basketball team it’s very bright.
 
A team that was a missed Aaron Harrison 3-pointer or Traevon Jackson buzzer-beater away from playing for a national title returns every player in their rotation other than Ben Brust. It’s for that reason that writers across the nation see an opportunity for UW to return to the Final Four next season.
 
Below is a collection of “Way too early” top 25’s from around the web:
 
ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan has UW at No. 4.
 
Don't get it twisted: Wisconsin's Final Four run was no fluke. Save a rough patch in January, the Wisconsin offense you saw in March -- the one that was a possession away from a crack at the national title -- really was that good all season long. Next season, almost everyone is back. Ben Brust is the only significant contributor graduating this spring. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker both declared their intentions to return almost immediately following their loss to Kentucky on Saturday night; both could compete for national player of the year honors next season. Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson will be seniors. Rising sophomore Nigel Hayeswill be a seasoned and even more polished frontcourt force. And if Bronson Koenig can re-create his stellar work against Kentucky on a regular basis, the Badgers have every chance of getting back to the Final Four a year from now.
 
NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster has Wisconsin at No. 3
 
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker said that they would be returning to school on Saturday night, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t believe them at this point. Assuming they do, the Badgers are going to be loaded once again, as the only starter the lose is Ben Brust. That’s survivable, particularly when they have Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes waiting for more playing time.
 
CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish throws UW in at No. 3.
 
               Notable players definitely gone:Ben Brust
               Others expected to leave:None
Notable players expected to return:Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes, Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan, Bronson Koenig
              Notable newcomers:Ethan Happ
 
Bleacher Report’s C.J. Moore puts the Badgers at No. 1
 
Why They're Here:The last time a Final Four team returned at least four of five starters the following season was North Carolina in 2008-09. Those Tar Heels won the national title.
 
Assuming everyone comes back, Wisconsin only loses Ben Brust, and Bo Ryan has two viable options to replace Brust who were key bench contributors this past year in Nigel Hayes or Bronson Koenig.
 
Greatest Asset:Wisconsin cannot match that 2009 UNC title team for talent, but here's what we learned during the NCAA tournament: Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker formed one of the best front lines in the country and you'll have a hard time finding a better front line next year.
 
Both are extremely difficult to guard because they can knock down perimeter jumpers or score from the blocks. Kaminsky will be one of the preseason picks to win the Naismith award after averaging 16.4 points per game in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers will also have better experience than anyone in the country as Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser will all be seniors and Dekker a junior. Mix in the coaching of Ryan, and that combination of talent, experience and coaching sounds like a championship formula.
 
Will Change If...Dekker or Kaminsky decide to declare for the draft. Both have NBA skill sets and improved their stocks during the tournament, but I'd be surprised if either player declared for the draft.

 

Badgers basketball: Twitter reacts to UW loss

Apr 06, 2014 -- 1:30am
 
ARLINGTON, TEXAS – Though it was not the result they wanted current and former Wisconsin athletes took to Twitter after the Badgers 74-73 loss to Kentucky. 
 
 

Badgers basketball: Preview (2) Wisconsin vs (8) Kentucky

Apr 04, 2014 -- 11:06pm

Preview: No. 2 UW vs No. 8 Kentucky

Who: The No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers (30-7) vs the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats (28-10)
 
What: NCAA Tournament, Final Four, National Semifinal
 
Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
 
When: April 5, 2014, approximately 7:49 p.m. CT
 
T.V. Coverage: TBS with Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Greg Anthony on the call and Tracy Wolfson on the sidelines. For a "Hometown" telecast, tune into TruTV where the voice of the Green Bay Packers, Wayne Larrivee, and former Badgers guard Mike Kelley will have the call and Phil Dawson will serve as the sideline reporter.
  
Last time: Wisconsin and Kentucky have matched up four times but only once in the NCAA tournament. That came 11 years ago in a Sweet 16 game in Minneapolis. The No. 1 seed Wildcats took down the Kirk Penney-led Badgers 63-57.
 
The line: Kentucky -1.5
 
How they got here:
 
Kentucky:
Defeated No. 9 Kansas State 56-49 in the second round
Defeated No. 1 Wichita State 78-76 in the third round
Defeated No. 4 Louisville 74-69 in the regional semifinal
Defeated No. 2 Michigan 75-72 in the regional final
 
Wisconsin:
Defeated No. 15 American 75-35 in the second round
Defeated No. 7 Oregon 85-77 in the third round
Defeated No. 6 Baylor 69-52 in the regional semifinal
Defeated No. 1 Arizona 64-63 in overtime in the regional final
 
Player to watch: Julius Randle
 
The most talented among the very talented Wildcats, the freshman forward is a beast down low. He’s got a double-double in all four tournament games, and in the last three, 14 of his 33 boards have come on the offensive end. 
 
“It’s been well known nationally they’ve been at the top or near the top most of the year (in offensive rebounding) and Randle’s the one that’s led the way with that,” UW assistant coach Greg Gard said.
 
A week ago, the Badgers went toe-to-toe with a player very similar to Randle in Arizona’s Aaron Gordon. UW went with Sam Dekker against the likely NBA lottery pick, along with throwing Nigel Hayes at him. Gordon was held in check – scoring just eight points but was able to haul in 18 rebounds.
 
“Obviously, Julius is a very good player. You got to respect everything he's been doing on the floor this year. He's going to be a test. He's a good player,” Dekker said. “But just like I said last week, with some of the guys we faced, as competitors, you want to play against the best players in the nation, and I think Julius Randle is one of them.  He's proven it.  As a competitor you want to go up against that and you want to see what you can do and you want to get a win over those guys.”
 
Teams have guarded Randle in a variety of ways, including doing what UK coach John Calipari called the “Shaquille O’Neil” defense, surrounding him with three guys and trying to be physical.
 
“Well, it's definitely hard,” Randle said. “It's frustrating. But I think when you win, it kind of takes the place of that. You don't really worry about it. But, I mean, it's frustrating, but you can't put too much into it. The biggest thing is that you try to learn how to affect the game in different ways, and that's what I've tried to learn this year. Just try to help my teammates out.”
 
And he did that by coming up with what seemed like every loose ball in their regional final win over Michigan and their Sweet 16 victory over Louisville.
 
“There's a reason he is talked about so much,” UW’s Frank Kaminsky said. “He's a difficult matchup for anybody who he's going against. Obviously teams have to throw things at him that he hasn't seen before to try to throw him off his game, and hopefully we can do that. We can try and frustrate him, because he's a very important piece for their success.  If we get a player like that a little frustrated, it will be good for us.”
 
The key? Keep them off the glass
 
Wisconsin has not played a team better at collecting missed shots on both ends of the floor than Kentucky. The Wildcats crash the boards hard and well. They are ranked fifth nationally in both total rebounds per game and offensive rebounds per game, while their rebounding margin of plus-9.2 is second in the country.
 
“They’re just relentless to the glass, not only individually but collectively,” Gard said. “Two through five, everybody goes and then they bring a couple guys off the bench that don’t drop off (in production).”
 
In their tournament upsets over fourth-seeded Louisville and second-seeded Michigan, UK collected 32 extra opportunities on the offensive end.
 
“If you saw their last game you know they really dominated Michigan on the offensive glass and I think that was the difference in the game,” Kaminsky said. “So, we’ve got to be physical with them too. We’ve got to push back when they’re pushing us. Anything we can do to counter their physicality will ultimately help us win this basketball game.”
 
Kentucky’s size certainly helps them – they don’t have a starter under 6-foot-6 – but it’s also a matter of effort, something the Badgers certainly understand.
 
“I think just having 100 percent effort on the defensive glass the entire night. Any time you slip up and don’t get a box out, those guys are going to take advantage of it and get it. And they do it 1 through 5, and on the offensive end for us we don’t always send all five guys to the glass. They’re not afraid to send everyone there, and tussle inside to get the rebound –they’re very strong so we just have to have a lot of fight and a lot of toughness and a lot of grit and if we can do that well and keep them off the glass as much as possible, it will help our chances of winning, very much.”
 
It’s Frank’s world
 
The increase in Frank Kaminsky’s public profile is nearly incalculable. More known a year ago as the guy with the goofy goggles and headband, he just won the Most Outstanding Player award for the West Regional and has found himself doing national interviews more and more.
 
“Taken a back a little bit,” Kaminsky admitted about the attention earlier in the week. “To see all these people that have done it before with national interviews, with people like (Charles Barkley), it’s weird that it’s me now. I’m in that phase where it hasn’t really hit me that I’m the person doing it but I’m sure it will soon.”
 
That was last Sunday after their return to Madison. After his week of being featured on broadcasts around the country, and his name being mentioned by every analyst as a “matchup nightmare”, it would be impossible for him not to realize where his recent performances have taken him. He took down the imposing Isaiah Austin of Baylor in the Sweet 16 and then owned the inside and outside of Arizona’s defense to the tune of 28 points and 11 rebounds.
 
“He's playing with a swagger right now, like, ‘None of you can guard me’,” UK’s John Calipari said of the 7-footer. “So that's a challenge in itself.”
 
That challenge is made even tougher by likely not having center Willie Cauley-Stein, who is dealing with an ankle injury but hasn’t been ruled out for the game.
 
“If I could tell you Willie were playing, I would feel a little more comfortable because he's a seven‑footer that can guard inside and outside and all that,” Calipari added. “We don't have that guy if he doesn't play.”
 
Kaminsky also got a lot of attention last week for saying Arizona would likely say, “white guys”, when asked what they thought about Wisconsin. On Friday in Arlington, the junior was asked about why he thinks other teams would look at them that way.
 
“Sometimes we kind of fail that eye test,” Kaminsky said. “But it doesn't matter once the game starts. It doesn't matter what we look like. It matters how we play. I think we have been playing our best basketball of the year. So people can say we look like this and we look like that, we look like a bunch of white guys, but it doesn't matter at the end of the day.”
 
Playing on the big stage
 
The scene on Saturday night will be like nothing any player - on either roster - has seen. More than 75,000 are expected in the “House that Jerry built” and the massive size of the building is hard to ignore.
 
“It kind of feels like you’re outside to a point,” Kaminsky said. “When you’re looking through the backboard it seems like everything’s so far away. It’s an insane venue. I think it’s too big, honestly.”
 
What might be an advantage for the Wildcats is their familiarity with the setup. They lost to Baylor 67-62 in the arena back in December, while also playing in a football stadium in the SEC tournament (Georgia Dome) and in the regional (Lucas Oil Field) last week in Indianapolis.
 
“What's an advantage is we played in this building on that floor exactly where it's placed,” Calipari said. “The disadvantage is we lost.”
 
The hope for the Badgers is that the time they got out on the floor this week will have allowed them to get comfortable enough.
 
“It’s going to be an adjustment but that’s why we got a few practices and a shootaround in there,” Kaminksy said. “Hopefully we can figure things out through those.”
 
But the building is only part of the challenge. The moment – it is the Final Four – can be overwhelming for even the most veteran of teams. And though Wisconsin starts a senior, three juniors and a sophomore – and Kentucky starts all freshmen – neither will have an advantage when they step on the floor.
 
“Well, we know our guys are going to get in front of 75,000, look around and think, Oh, my, it's going to be that way,” Calipari said. “Then we'll both try to settle down our teams and try to get them to focus on basketball, lose themselves in the game and just play a basketball game. But if you think these 18‑ and 19‑ and 20‑year‑old kids are going to be not cognizant of what's going on around them, they will be.”
 
Ryan, who coached UW-Platteville to four titles in Division III, admitted the scene around the game will be different – the Pioneers played in front of 5,000 people in their title games – but said handling the atmosphere does not.
 
“Once the ball is thrown up, you still have to manage in those first timeouts,” Ryan said. “No matter whether it's Division‑I or Division III, you got to manage emotions and energy and try to channel it the right way and get everybody concentrating on what it is we do and don't try to be somebody that we're not.

“So again, we try to encourage our players to take in the ambiance and the surroundings, and but when it comes time to play, then just be who you are.”
 
From the bench
 
Both teams have gotten significant lifts off their bench this year and especially of late in the case of Kentucky.
 
Marcus Lee, another of the Wildcats’ nine true freshmen on the roster, hadn’t played double-digit minutes since Jan. 14 before coming off the pine to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds – seven offensive – in the win over Michigan. The 6-foot-9 Lee’s 15 minutes of action was the same amount he got in the previous 10 games combined.

“I called my assistant coach and he had to fill me in,” Ryan said of what he did when he saw Lee on tape. “Wow. It was pretty impressive. So we got to keep him off the glass. That's all I know. How about that for an addition off the bench? Scary.”
 
It may be needed again with Cauley-Stein unlikely to go. That forces 7-footer Dakari Johnson back into the starting lineup and leaves them a bit smaller coming off the bench, though they can also throw 6-foot-8 sophomore Alex Poythress at you.
 
For Wisconsin, Nigel Hayes could and likely will play a significant role. He might be who Ryan turns to if Randle is successful against Dekker when UW is on defense. And he could also be a problem for Kentucky to guard at the other end.
 
Bronson Koenig will also be a factor for the Badgers. While still coming along on the defensive end, the freshman has a deft touch for finding the open guy and for knocking down some outside shots himself. Against Arizona he drilled a 3-pointer with a guy in his face and also hit a long step-back 2-pointer near the end of the shot clock. He’s shooting 4 of 9 from distance in the tournament.
 
Some big guys
 
Kentucky’s starting lineup consists of players that are all 6-foot-6 or taller. All three of UW’s guards are under 6-foot-3. While the Badgers have faced some other big guards this year – Michigan’s Nik Stauskas and Nebraska’s Shavon Shields – it’s not easy preparing for guys like Aaron Harrison, who is shooting 13 of 24 from beyond the arc in the tournament and can also get to the rim.
 
“We've played big teams before,” the 6-foot-7 Sam Dekker said. “We've been outsized in multiple matchups this year, and I thought we've done all right with it. It's just going to be another fight and another test for us against a good team.  They've got some big guys on the outside and inside … They've got good size. Everyone knows that. 
 
“But we've got guys that are going to fight and claw and do everything they can to get a win. When you've got four guys on the court that are with you with the same mindset, it doesn't really matter how big you are. It just matters how much you want it and how much you're willing to fight for it.”
 
Quotable:
 
“Keep the faith. We can do this. We can definitely do this.”
 
UW coach Bo Ryan in an interview with CBS/Turner’s Jim Nantz to the fans that came to the Badgers open practice on Friday afternoon.
 
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