Symbol of the Times

Symbol of the Times

Wisconsin has faltered in past tournament when it was bitten by the injury bug, something senior Trevon Hughes remembers all too well. In his last chance to make an impression, Hughes is confident in the new decade, and a new chance to take Wisconsin to the Final Four.

MADISON - It's been stewing in Trevon Hughes' head for over a week now. After failing to win his second regular season conference title of his tenure, Hughes was convinced he would add a second tournament title to his resume.

So sitting in Conseco Fieldhouse after a four-point loss in the Big Ten Quarterfinals, Hughes was more upset at himself for missing out on another title. Maybe that's why he's never been hungrier heading into his fourth and final NCAA Tournament.

"We missed out on two of our goals so far this year," Hughes said. "We have one more ahead of us and that can definitely be accomplished. At the same time, we know we have to get done. We let a couple goals go in the Big Ten. This is our last chance.

Should the Badgers win a second national championship or even make the Final Four, Hughes would consider those missed opportunities a wash.

"We lost two rings," he said. "To go far would be special."

That journey for fourth-seed Wisconsin (23-8) begins Friday afternoon in Jacksonville, Fla., as the Badgers will take on Southern Conference regular-season and tournament-champion Wofford (26-8).

The mentality around the Wisconsin program is much different than it was last season when the Badgers were preparing for their first round opponent. Wisconsin was one of the final at-large teams in the field as a No.12 seed, a result of them losing 10 games in which they had a lead in the second half.

A year later, the Badgers, picked to finish as low as ninth in the Big Ten in some preseason publications, is at least a fourth seed for the third time in the last four years, and being called a sleeper to make the Final Four.

"Last year we thought we took some bumps when we were position to win the game," sophomore Jordan Taylor said. "We didn't feel like we were a bad team. This year, we just took care of business better. Last year we felt like we were a good team. This year we feel like we are a good team. We are just a little more focused. We closed out a lot of games, beat some good teams and I think that we have a lot of experience."

The veteran leadership in the Badgers' starting lineup has been the big reason Wisconsin is popping up on people's radar. Since junior Jon Leuer returned to the lineup five games ago, Wisconsin is out scoring opponents by 17.5 points per game, out rebounded four of its last five opponents and leads the conference with in offensive points per possession (1.11) and defensive points per possession (.94).

"We feel like we can get something done this year," Hughes said. "We have the talent level. We believe this could be it."

Of course, Hughes has felt that way before. His freshman year, Hughes felt his team has great size inside, wing men and guard play, but the injury to Brian Butch was the undoing in the second round against UNLV. One year later in the Sweet Sixteen against Davidson, Hughes' ankle injury forced him to be limited in his defense and contributions, two things that allowed Jason Richards to notch 13 assists.

A year before against Xavier, Wisconsin was in solid control until the seven-minute scoring drought in the second half, something that had plagued the team all season, reared its ugly head.

"It's a new decade," Hughes said. "This year is a different story. Ever since I've been here, we've had the talent level."

Ask Bohannon the same question and he won't disagree, as long as the Badgers are thinking about Wofford and Friday and not Kentucky or the Final Four.

"Every game is important," he said. "You can't look past one team and expect to move on to the next round, because that's when some team is going to jump up and get you. Every team is capable of beating every other team. You have to stay focused on one team at a time."

Hughes has heard those Final Four murmurings, something he's quick to agree with, saying the Badgers have the talent to get there but says they aren't a favorite because of some shooting slumps that question outsiders ability to advance them over teams like Wofford, Temple, Kentucky and West Virginia.

Against Illinois, the Badgers shot 18.2 percent and Hughes missed his first 12 shots. Consider that part of his grand plan, which gets put into action against the Terriers.

"We just got the bad one out of the way," Hughes said with a laugh. "We usually have a bad (game) every six games. There's six games left, so maybe next year's team will start off with a bad game, which will be an exhibition."

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