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February 16, 2012MADISON -- When the Wisconsin players talked about extra time off this week being good to help them rest up and get closer to 100 percent, it wasn't about their next opponent.
But with that opponent being Michigan State, it's fortuitous timing. Wisconsin will need all the effort and energy they can find Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
Coming away with a win will not be easy for Bo Ryan's team. But it most certainly will be a battle, especially on the boards.
"We know Michigan State is as physical as anyone we're going to play all year," Jared Berggren said. "That's something that they're always known for; being extremely physical and rebounding very well. Really, every player on the floor rebounds well.
"We're going to have to work hard, box out every time, stay disciplined, be tough, and try to win those 50/50 balls."
In each of the last three meetings between the Badgers and Spartans, the team that won the rebounding battle also came away with the victory. Wisconsin is 1-2 in those games, with the only win of the three contests coming last year at the Kohl Center.
When they met earlier this season, Michigan State outrebounded UW, 38-27, en route to a 63-60 victory. In their 64-61 overtime win last year in East Lansing, the Spartans held a 34-28 edge on the glass.
"They get after it," Ryan said. "They're big. They're long. I think that pretty much tells the story. I don't know how else you can describe it."
Of those 72 rebounds that MSU grabbed in its last two wins over Wisconsin, senior forward Draymond Green accounted for 23 of them (32 percent), including four offensive rebounds in each of those games.
Green's average of 11.3 rebounds per game in conference play leads the Big Ten, as does his overall average of 10.5 boards per contest. If the Badgers want to pick up their fifth consecutive road win, keeping Green off the glass, especially on the offensive end, would go a long way.
"Last game [in Madison], Draymond Green just had his way," UW video coordinator Sharif Chambliss said. "Guys know they have a challenge put forth ahead of them right now going in there on Thursday.
"You can't let anybody just dictate what they want to do all the time. [Green] and (Derrick) Nix had their way and Payne was just all over. So we have to be able to go in there and control the physicality of the game."
Green, of course, can't do it all on his own. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in rebounds per game with 40, while also limiting opponents to a Big Ten-best 29.4 rebounds per game. The Spartans' +10.5 rebounding margin has a lot to do with Green, but Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson do their part as well. Dawson grabs 4.9 rebounds per game, while Nix averages 3.8. Adreian Payne, Brandon Wood and Austin Thornton each pull down at least three boards per contest as well.
By comparison, Ryan Evans leads the Badgers in rebounding with 6.8 per game -- nearly four less than Green -- while four others average between four and 5.3 rebounds apiece. Wisconsin's top six rebounders combine for 27.7 per game, while Michigan State's top five grab 29.6 a game.
How would Ryan assess his team's rebounding this season, which ranks fifth in the Big Ten?
"Well, it depends on what day you ask," Ryan said Monday during his weekly press conference. "Since you're asking today, our guys are making strides. It's an area that you always can improve on.
"That expression about the ball bouncing your way, with rebounds, every shot is a potential loose ball. Go get them. And our guys like to mix it up. They like to get after them, but sometimes the other team might be a little bit more physical, a little taller, longer, as I said, better bounce, but it should never be because we're not trying to do the fundamentally sound things to rebound."