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February 4, 2012

Fight for first at the Kohl

MADISON -- Through his "reasoning skills," Mike Bruesewitz figured out Wisconsin's next opponent was Ohio State. It helped that somebody on the scout team was playing the role of Jared Sullinger.

"I put two and two together," Bruesewitz said.

That's the kind of approach the Badgers are taking heading into Saturday's matchup against the Buckeyes. It's just another 40 minutes, regardless of what happened a year ago or what is on the line this year.

But that doesn't mean either of those two things are insignificant. Last year's victory over top-ranked and previously undefeated Ohio State is one Wisconsin fans, players and coaches will remember for a long time.

And it's inevitable that such a memorable game would be brought up this week leading up to OSU's first return to Madison since.

"It's something that you'll probably just remember forever just because you get to beat a No. 1 team at home," said Jordan Taylor whose 21 second-half points fueled the Badgers' comeback a year ago. "But as far as what that has to do with this year, it's zero impact on the game this year.

"We're a completely different team this year, and they're a completely different team. I think both our teams have different strengths than we did last year. It's a brand new 40 minutes. We've just got to find a way to neutralize a really good team, again."

With what's at stake, especially for Wisconsin, this year's game has the potential to be even bigger. Or at least more significant to their current season.

It would be difficult to match, let alone exceed, the thrilling nature of the Badgers' 71-67 win last season. But considering the way they've bounced back from a rough start to the Big Ten season, it's not hard to argue Saturday's game is more important.

Sure, Ohio State has three more losses heading into the game than they did the last time they came into the Kohl Center. And they're only ranked third, rather than No. 1.

But whereas the Feb. 12 win over Ohio State last year put Wisconsin within two games of the conference lead, the Badgers -- the same UW squad that opened conference play with a 1-3 mark -- have a chance to move into first place in the Big Ten with a victory Saturday over the Buckeyes.

"We had a little bit of a rough start," Frank Kaminsky said. "And to climb out of what we climbed out of, that says a lot about this team and how much we want this. So, we're going to go out, 40 minutes, us versus them, and we're going to try to beat 'em."

Of course, with a month to go in the regular season -- including a late February trip to Columbus along with three other road games -- there's certainly no guarantee Wisconsin would win the Big Ten even with a win Saturday over Ohio State.

Still, A win would extend UW's winning streak to seven games and give Bo Ryan's squad plenty of confidence heading into the season's final month and, more importantly, the postseason.

Staying true to form, though, the Badgers were no different during the days leading up to Saturday's game than they have been before any other game this season.

"Every game means pretty much the same at this point as a Big Ten game, but we're just really happy with the position we're in right now. Looking back a few weeks, knowing that we'd be in this position is a pretty good feeling.

"We control our own destiny, so we've just got to take it game-by-game. This is just another one of those games. It just happens to be that they're right up there at the top with us."


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