Big Ten battle pits Badgers against Spartans

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Updated: 2/09 8:47 am

Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - The Wisconsin Badgers tip off a two-game homestand at the Kohl Center on Sunday when they take on the ninth-ranked Michigan State Spartans in Big Ten Conference action.

After stepping out of conference on Feb. 1 with a 64-60 loss to Georgetown, Michigan State took care of business against Penn State on Thursday, 82-67, to improve to 9-1 in the Big Ten. The Spartans are an outstanding 20-3 overall this season (including 6-0 on the road), but two of their losses have come in the past four games.

Wisconsin was once considered one of the nation's elite teams following a 16-0 start, but it quickly fell from grace by losing five of its next six bouts. The Badgers got back on the winning track on Tuesday with a 75-63 victory at Illinois to improve to 5-5 in the league. They are also 10-3 at the Kohl Center but have lost three straight at home.

The Spartans lead the all-time series with the Badgers, 74-60, which includes five straight wins.

Michigan State ran out to a 22-8 lead less than 10 minutes into its most recent contest and its advantage was never in doubt the rest of the way, opening up a lead as large as 26 late in the second half. It outshot PSU from the field in the convincing win, 46.7 percent to 36.8 percent, and earned a 42-30 advantage in the rebounding battle. Kenny Kaminski was red-hot from 3- point range, draining 5-of-6 from long distance en route to a team-high 19 points. Gary Harris poured in 14 points, Adreian Payne netted 12 off the bench in his return after missing the previous seven games, Denzel Valentine stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals and Matt Costello rounded out the balanced attack with 10 points.

The Spartans are one of the nation's most well-rounded teams this season, as they shoot 47.1 percent from the field for 78.5 ppg while allowing just 65.0 ppg on a mere 38.4 percent shooting. They also own a stellar +4.6 rebounding margin, although they have lost some of their advantage down low since Brandan Dawson (10.2 ppg, 8.7 rpg) was lost with a broken hand a few weeks back. Harris has established himself as one of the Big Ten's best guards with 18.2 ppg, making 49 3-pointers and draining his free-throw attempts at a 78 percent clip. Payne's return to the lineup will bring a much-needed boost, as he averages 15.9 ppg and 7.4 rpg. Keith Appling pours in 15.0 ppg and hands out just shy of five assists per contest, while Valentine contributes 7.8 ppg and 6.2 rpg.

The Badgers built a six-point advantage at the half of their latest bout and never surrendered that lead down the stretch, finishing the game on a 20-11 run to pull away. They shot 47.8 percent from the field on the evening, including 10-of-23 from 3-point range, and also made good on 80.8 percent of their free-throw tries (21-of-26). Ben Brust and Sam Dekker paced the effort with 16 points apiece, with Dekker doing so on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. Traevon Jackson and Nigel Hayes each added 14 points to the winning effort.

Wisconsin's offensive attack this season has been stellar, as it shoots 45.8 percent from the field (including 7.7 3-pointers per game at a 36.9 percent clip), but it has scored less than that average in six of the past seven games. Its stout effort on the defensive end of the floor (63.3 ppg) has been consistent all season long, as has its efforts in the rebounding (+1.8) and turnover (+1.8) battles. Dekker (13.7 ppg) and Brust (13.3 ppg) are neck-and- neck for the team lead in scoring, with Dekker adding 6.0 rpg and Brust sporting strong percentages from 3-point range (.395) and the foul line (.943). Frank Kaminsky (12.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg), Jackson (11.0 ppg) and Josh Gasser (8.7 ppg) round out a lineup that has started every game together.

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