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Eyes on the prize

Bo Ryan's first season at the University of Wisconsin in 2001-2002, saw the Badgers win their fist Big Ten Championship since 1947.

Ryan and the Badgers are looking for another conference title.

With many members of the 01-02 Big Ten championship squad slated to be in Madison this weekend as Wisconsin takes on Penn State, it's a good reminder of how far a team can come, in just a short amount of time.

After starting the Big Ten season 1-3, this year's Badger squad has a chance to overcome odds just as difficult.

"Just how they came together," Ryan said in regards to the 2002 Big Ten championship team. "The fact that we ended up, basically, with seven scholarship players because of injuries and the different types of injuries, the transfers, when we first took over, which is a time to transfer if you don't think things are going to be the way they were when you came in.

"The fact that we had to re-recruit some people so they wouldn't go somewhere else. They just worked, we stole a couple games on the road, a couple of one-point games at Michigan State, at Indiana, and the Big Ten, there wasn't a real dominant team.

"Ohio State took a few bumps in there and made the rest of us look human, so we caught a few breaks along the way. But you make your breaks. The guys competed hard and felt good, I know that."

Just a game out of first place, behind leaders Michigan State and Ohio State, Ryan and the Badgers won't talk about the possibility of winning the programs first Big Ten championship since the 2007-2008 season.

"When you compete in a sport, and you have to talk to guys about winning, that's a sad state of affairs," Ryan explained. "The only thing that's important is the next one, and, that we have control over or that we can prepare for.

"That old saying, three things you have control over, how you think, how you feel, and how you behave.

Ryan Evans is averaging 13.5 points per game in his last four outings.

"So what we've got to do in our practices is think about the things that we can do, and do them well, and, hopefully, feel good about them in the end. But that's all we can do right now."

Wisconsin may not be focused on the championship still within their reach, but Ryan knows it's a valuable asset to the program moving forward.

Ryan didn't undersell the effects that a conference championship can have on a program in future years.

"Well, I can't honestly say that a player said to us, ‘Well, because you got a piece of the Big Ten Championship, I want to be there,'" said Ryan. "I wish I could say that. I mean, there are so many options for young men in recruiting.

"By the time that season was over, we were packing the place. Maybe it sold more tickets, maybe it got more interest, maybe it does this, does that. I can't measure that with any device.

"But it got guys believing. And what it really did, as I've said a lot of times, and you've heard it, I just didn't realize how hungry the Wisconsin fans were for a championship.

"What we heard every place we went, that those kinds of things, there is something about a Big Ten Championship that, I guess, wasn't on the lips of the people in the neighborhood, and it sounded good.

"So that was fun. And then to come back and get it the next year without the tie, that was fun. We'll talk about that next year, but, they're always fun."

Taylor scored a season-high 27 points against Minnesota.

With just six games left in the regular season, Ryan feels fortunate that the Badgers have finally formed an identity after so many unknown factors heading into the season

"Oh, it's definitely evolving, because people can't figure us out," he said. "We knew it was going to be a little different this year, and it’s not the first time we've said that.

"Just think back months ago. Unknowns, how people would react to certain things. But you talk about resilient and coming to practice every day and not let a slump affect this or not let some success affect that, and there's still more to come probably both ways."

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