by Rob Moseley
MILWAUKEE — In reaching Saturday's third-round NCAA Tournament matchup, Oregon and Wisconsin took similar paths, though at markedly different speeds.
Back on Dec. 30, a freshly released top 25 from The Associated Press had the Badgers at No. 4 and the Ducks at No. 10, each having started 13-0. Just over a month later, neither team was ranked at all, Wisconsin having gone 4-4 in January, and Oregon having endured a 2-6 month.
Come February, however, each team would kick off an eight-game winning streak that got them back into the national picture. On Saturday, the No. 12 Badgers will face the Ducks at the BMO Harris Bradley Center (4:45 p.m. PT, CBS), with Wisconsin the No. 2 seed in the West Region and Oregon the No. 7.
"You hit bumps, you hit different challenges, you face adversity," UO sophomore Ben Carter said. "It definitely shows they're a high-character team, just like our group, that they can go through a tough stretch and still rebound from it and win eight straight."
While the Ducks and Badgers experienced remarkably similar seasons as wins and losses go, how they went about it was strikingly different. Oregon plays at a pace above 70 possessions per game, among the most in the country, while Wisconsin averages closer to 60, among the fewest nationally.
Thus, it figures to be a contrast in styles when the two teams meet, with each attempting to impose its will on the other.
"Obviously they don't want to run," UO senior Jason Calliste said. "They want to slow it down and run their stuff, and we want to get it and go. It's a cliché, but it is a battle of tempos."
After wins in the second round Thursday, each team went about scrambling to scout the other over the ensuing 48 hours.
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said Friday afternoon he'd already watched seven of the Ducks' games, including Thursday's win over BYU as well as others against Illinois, Arizona, UCLA, Washington and Oregon State.
"We have to face a team that gets it up and down," Ryan said. "They can score in the halfcourt, they can score in the full court. They put a lot of pressure on you."
Oregon assistant Kevin McKenna said a few minutes later that he had reviewed four of Wisconsin's recent games, including Thursday's win over American. McKenna noted that Northwestern used a zone against the Badgers, as the Ducks have done at times, and that Minnesota also has some similarities with the Ducks.
As for a comparison to Wisconsin, McKenna said UCLA could be the closest, for the way the Bruins spread the floor offensively with big men David and Travis Wear. The Badgers have a 7-foot post, Frank Kaminsky, who is just as comfortable shooting or driving from the three-point line as he is down low.
"Our biggest challenge is going to be matching them physically," UO senior Johnathan Loyd said. "They're real physical and they like to slow down the game, bang, take real good shots. They're smart players, fundamentally sound, so it's going to be a good challenge for us."
On Thursday, Oregon's defensive effort and positive rebounding margin allowed the Ducks to beat BYU despite making a season-low two three-pointers. If the UO men are to establish a high-scoring, free-wheeling tempo against the Badgers, it figures they'll need to be more accurate Saturday, though junior Joseph Young isn't so sure.
"If we play defense, we don't really have to make no threes," Young said. "If we play defense, get steals and have layups — and get to the free-throw line. You can win from the free-throw line. If we attack the rim, get fouls, knock our free throws down, that's a good start for us."
Sophomore Damyean Dotson suggested a better shooting performance is in store, however. He said Thursday's inaccuracy might have been due to playing in a different arena with an unfamiliar backdrop behind the baskets.
"We'll hit shots," Dotson said. "You've got games where you don't hit them, games where you hit them. We've been relying on the three a lot, but I feel like we were getting used to the gym. We practice (Friday), get some shots up, we'll be feeling better (Saturday). And once some shots go in, you get a roll going."
The Bradley Center might be more familiar to Oregon by Saturday, but it also will be more hostile. Milwaukee is barely an hour's drive away from the home of the Badgers, Madison, and the Ducks anticipate a decidedly partisan crowd.
But, Loyd said, "this is tourney time, so we can't really be worried about that. We can't use that as an excuse."