Josh Gasser and the Wisconsin Badgers are facing Ohio State for the second time this season. They were victorious in the first meeting Feb. 12, giving the Buckeyes their first loss in a 71-67 win.[/media-credit]Another month, another date with No. 1 Ohio State.The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (23-6, 13-4) will travel to Columbus, Ohio, Sunday afternoon, and in doing so they will face the Buckeyes (28-2, 15-2) for the third time this year. The first took place on the gridiron last October, and the second came Feb. 12 at the Kohl Center. Both resulted in wins for the Badgers, and both gave the Buckeyes their first loss in each season.Following a two-week absence from the nation’s top spot after falling to Wisconsin, Ohio State is again the No. 1 team. The Buckeyes rebounded three days later with a victory over Michigan State but fell on the road to Purdue at always-tough Mackey Arena. Since then, Ohio State has won three in a row.Meanwhile, Wisconsin has won four in a row. Yet, questions persist regarding the Badgers’ ability to play on the road, as they are just 6-6 away from the Kohl Center. So while a four-game winning streak entering the final game of the regular season would seem to be a cause for celebration – or at the very least, some praise – UW is instead focusing on solidifying its grasp on the momentum.“This is the time of year where you want to be playing your best basketball,” forward Jon Leuer said. “I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of that. We’ve put together some wins here, and now we’re just trying to keep stringing them together, keep improving every day so that for the stretch run – it’s March now – so for the stretch run, we just want to be playing our best basketball.”In regards to improvement, neither team figures to change much from the first time they met. After all, Ohio State held a 15-point lead with 13:21 remaining in the second half – until point guard Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin erased it in less than four minutes. Taylor finished with 27 points on 8-of-13 shooting, seven assists and four rebounds. He sparked the 15-0 run that brought UW back with eight straight points, leaving head coach Bo Ryan without much of an explanation after the game – a very rare feat.“I’d like to be able to explain that, but it’s hard, even for me, and I see him every day,” Ryan said after the game. “Just good decision after good decision – not because the ball went in the net when he pulled up on some of the shots, but he read whether or not he was open, whether or not there was separation on the ones that he scored. On the ones that he assisted to others, some really good decisions to drive along the baseline.”Taylor continued – and perhaps extended – his brilliance with 39 points against Indiana Thursday night. His 4.1 assist-turnover ratio leads the nation, and as a result, Wisconsin does as well with a 1.79 mark.The Badgers have long been one of the nation’s most efficient teams – 1.19 points per possession is tied for the national lead – but with their struggles on the road has come some offensive consistency. That notion might seem ridiculous after Wisconsin’s – and Taylor’s – explosion against Indiana, but the Hoosiers sit in 10th place in the Big Ten and allow the ninth-most points per game.“The biggest thing on the road is just we’ve been a little bit stagnant offensively,” Leuer said. “I don’t think we’ve been cutting as hard, pushing the ball as much as we have been at home. I think that just makes us settle for a lot of jumpers. But when we’re cutting hard and moving the ball, our shooting percentage tends to go up.”Typically, struggles on the road prod critics to point out a lack of focus. But the Badgers insist that isn’t the case.“Maybe a little bit, but I never really got that feeling with this team,” forward Keaton Nankivil said. “I think this is the most focused team I’ve been on.”Taylor’s dominance Thursday night masked some of the Badgers’ offensive struggles, but for much of February, their offense has revolved around jump shots and forced possessions through Taylor. Leuer, UW’s leading scorer with 19.3 points per game, has made just 4-of-24 three-pointers since Feb. 6 against Michigan State.Thus, freeing up the offense likely will continue to be a principal priority when the Badgers invade Columbus for round three with the Buckeyes.“The more hard cutting we can get and fighting through contact, getting the ball in the post and just getting high percentage shots, that frees up our offense so much more,” Leuer said.
Chiara Gutsche sensed the pass coming, and began to inch toward midfield. As the clock neared five minutes in overtime, Gutsche crept up from the defensive end and made her move.Moments earlier, fans had called out “Drop Char,” yearning for Charlotte de Vries, SU’s star freshman, to cut off the angle across the field. She didn’t, so the St. Joseph’s defender sent the pass from left to right. Gutsche and de Vries locked eyes, and Gutsche knew she had to step into the passing lane. She intercepted it in stride, and sprinted toward the SJU cage, securing another turnover for SU’s defenders. That sequence ended with Laura Graziosi’s game-winning goal — when she ripped the ball into the back of the cage after a penalty corner insertion — and sealed No. 23 Syracuse’s (4-1) 2-1 overtime win over No. 14 St. Joseph’s (3-1) Friday night. The Orange midfield consistently broke up St. Joseph’s attacks in the middle-third and stifled rushes that neared the crease in the back end. Sometimes, the steal came on the initial pass. Other times, they interrupted the stick-handling that followed. But behind a thorough defensive effort, Syracuse limited tense moments for goalies Syd Taylor and Sarah Sinck, and created enough offensive opportunities to knock off the Hawks.“We just had good pressure from all over the field, everybody was just doing their jobs,” senior Claire Webb, who played for the first time this year, said. “And when everybody does their jobs, we play well as a unit.”It was the complete performance that SU had lacked thus far. During its first four games, offensive dominance and defensive containment had flashed but rarely meshed. Against Vermont and UMass Lowell, SU escaped with wins. Against Lafayette, two early goals allowed by Sarah Sinck overshadowed prominent chances in the Leopards’ end. And against Cornell, those lapses resulted in an upset loss. AdvertisementThis is placeholder textHead coach Ange Bradley said Webb’s return brought composure, and the senior replaced freshman Olivia Graham at center back, the defense’s anchor. Bradley also started Taylor for the first time in net, but she never needed to dive to one side or knock away balls with knee pads — the Hawks tallied zero shots in the first half. Junior Sarah Luby, midfielder Claire Cooke and Gutsche spearheaded a middle that swarmed SJU’s passes and chopped balls away, leading to counter-attacks and eliminating lanes for SJU rushes.“We played really together and compact, moved the ball quick and around, always try to open new and more holes,” Carolin Hoffmann said.At times, the turnovers created favorable opportunities in the other end. SJU’s midfielder Cassidy Atchison pushed the ball to the edge of the field and centered a pass into the crease, but Webb sent it in the other direction before another stick could poke it toward the cage. Cooke maintained possession midway through the first quarter, although her long pass intended for Gutsche sailed harmlessly out of bounds and returned control to the Hawks. Had that pass connected, Gutsche would’ve had an odd-man rush at the net.But those plays prevented disaster in the defensive end. With de Vries and her six goals patrolling the offensive zone, a pass on a counter-attack to her stick could end in scoring chances. Leading up to SU’s first goal, Luby poked the ball away to Gutsche and initiated a rush. At the sequence’s end, de Vries backed up St. Joseph’s freshman Kate Blincoe before spinning around and finishing with a reverse hit to give Syracuse a 1-0 lead.“We just kept playing our style of game,” Hoffmann said, “just didn’t even think about what [the Hawks] were doing.”With a one-goal lead, the Orange attempted to slow down the pace early in the second half. When Webb and Graham would corral passes near the crease, they’d simply rotate the ball until an SJU defender pressed hard enough. Then, once the ball progressed into the midfielders’ territory, they too circled it around. First Graham, then to Webb, over to sophomore SJ Quigley, and then back again.Even when St. Joseph’s struck off a penalty corner in the 35th minute, when Emily Peters dropped to the right post and finished in an open net, it wasn’t from a defensive breakdown, Bradley said. Rather, the game-tying tally resulted from the Hawks finding a successful angle off the insert, finding a location where all Taylor could do was watch from the opposite post as the white sphere pounded the back of the cage. “It’s a guessing game,” Bradley said of defending penalty corners. Early in the fourth quarter, still 20 minutes away from when Graziosi took two steps right and rifled the game-winning goal past Hawks goalkeeper Victoria Kammerinke, Graham crouched down at midfield and greeted another St. Joseph’s rush. Fans had started to congregate near the bottom of J.S. Coyne Stadium’s bleachers, awaiting the pivotal rush. Others paced on the top row by the “Game Day” flags whipping in the wind. Graham shuffled to her left and followed until she could poke the ball away. Hoffmann snagged possession and sent an outlet pass to a streaking Luby. Despite an outstretched stick, Luby watched the pass jump past her stick. She shook her head.But Graham wasn’t disheveled at the missed opportunity. The freshman had done her job, similar to her other midfield and back partners the rest of the night. Graham jogged to her right, back toward her normal spot, and grasped her stick with both hands. At one point, another rush would come. Another chance to start a counter-attack. She just had to be ready. Comments Published on September 13, 2019 at 10:48 pm Contact Andrew: email@example.com | @CraneAndrew Facebook Twitter Google+