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February 15, 2012

UW looks for first Breslin Center win since 2004

MADISON -- It's been an exciting year of games between Wisconsin and Michigan State. And all it's done is add to the rivalry between the two schools.

Between football and men's basketball, the Badgers and Spartans have matched up three times for a thrilling set of games decided by a total of 12 points. And all three came down to the final play.

Add in the 2010-11 basketball season, and four of the last five times these two schools have met the games have been decided by six points or less. The only outlier in those five games is Wisconsin's 82-56 victory at the Kohl Center last February.

"Great teams, football and basketball. A lot of competitors on both sides for both schools," Jordan Taylor said. "I really don't know, but it's fun to watch I'm sure for people. It's fun to be a part of. It'd been a whole lot better if we'd have been on the winning side the first time. And for football down there too the first time. But sometimes that's the way it goes and we get another chance now."

The UW football team made the most of its second chance against MSU this season -- coming away with a 42-39 victory in the Big Ten championship game -- and the basketball team will look to do likewise Thursday night at the Breslin Center. It certainly will not be an easy task for Bo Ryan's team, which has not won in East Lansing since 2004.

Wisconsin assistant coach Sharif Chambliss was a member of that 2003-04 squad, and he remembers the Breslin Center well.

"It's loud. A tough place to play. The fans are right on you," Chambliss said. "And those guys play harder up there. They play hard all the time, but I always feel like they play a little harder at home.

"I think ever since that '02-03 team, when Alando (Tucker) caught the lob from Devin (Harris), I think there's been a little rivalry. And it's always kept up that way."

That alley-oop came Feb. 11, 2003, as Harris found Tucker with the lob for an emphatic dunk with less than two seconds remaining. It gave UW a 64-53 victory and left a bitter taste in the Spartans' mouths.

After the game, MSU head coach Tom Izzo did not want to talk about the play. But he did manage to note, "I would never allow my team to do that." Izzo also reportedly told Ryan, "I'll remember that," during their abrupt postgame handshake.

The rivalry between the two teams has provided some entertaining games over the years since that dunk, but the results have been primarily in Wisconsin's favor. The Badgers won Ryan's first six games against the Spartans, and have not lost more than two in a row to MSU over the last 11 years.

Wisconsin has, however, struggled to beat Michigan State at the Breslin Center.

After winning the first two times there under Ryan, the Badgers have gone 0-6 in East Lansing over the last eight years. UW's last road win over Sparty came March 2, 2004, a 68-64 overtime victory.

Could the Breslin Center the toughest place in the Big Ten to get a road win?

"It might be," Josh Gasser said. "They definitely have a good track record, a good crowd that comes in and it's a fun atmosphere to play in. Our place is obviously tough, Ohio State, Purdue, all those. Michigan State is right up there.

"I just remember going in last year looking at the atmosphere and how cool it was, and how we almost got it, but just couldn't pull it out. You've definitely got to battle for 40 minutes if you want to get a win in that arena."

A year ago, Wisconsin was in control at Michigan State, leading by nine points with under five minutes to play. Then, much like last week at Minnesota, everything went the Spartans' way as they closed the gap with a 9-0 run and sent the game to overtime.

MSU then outlasted the Badgers in the extra period for a 64-61 overtime victory, thanks in large part to a 26-point performance by Draymond Green.

"I remember it was extremely disappointing," Jared Berggren said of the loss. "I think we had a pretty substantial lead late in the second half, and to be honest with you, we pretty much did everything wrong to close the game.

"We gave them every chance, they took advantage of it. We really just let that one slip through our fingers."

The Badgers nearly sent this year's game at the Kohl Center into overtime, but Ryan Evans' shot was just a fraction of a second too late.

It was the second time in as many days that Wisconsin ran out of time. The previous evening, the Badgers lost in the Rose Bowl as time ran out of them. It also was the second time in just a few months that a replay review after time had expired went the Spartans' way in a victory over UW.

When the two teams met the first time in football, a last-second hail mary pass gave Michigan State the thrilling upset victory.

"We've had a lot of close losses and that's right up there with them," Gasser said of the Jan. 3 defeat. "I don't know if I'd say it's the worst, but it's definitely up there. Just because we had a good shot to win, and obviously the overtime stuff that happened. We definitely want to get down there and get a little revenge and hopefully get a win."


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