Led by captain Erika Lawler, the Wisconsin women\’s hockey team is looking to avenge a second place finish in the WCHA and make some noise in the NCAA tournament.[/media-credit]Although failing to win the WCHA regular season title must be a disappointment to the University of Wisconsin women’s hockey team, injuries are more at the forefront of the Badgers’ concerns.Heading into postseason play, Wisconsin hopes to have its players back in top form, including captain Erika Lawler. The senior is currently battling a shoulder injury suffered from a game against Minnesota earlier this month.However, according to head coach Mark Johnson, Lawler should be in playing shape by the time the WCHA tournament begins this weekend.“She’s been battling this for probably three weeks now,” Johnson said. “You can expect her to play Friday.”Though Lawler isn’t the only player battling injuries, Johnson feels that nagging pains are not a concern at this stretch in the season.“It comes down to having that hunger and that desire,” Johnson said. “If these kids really want to take a run at a championship, which I anticipate they want to, those type of things get put on the side.”Knight hoping to carry big numbers into playoffs Although Lawler has been recovering over the past couple weeks, she did re-aggravate the injury following a goal against Minnesota State-Mankato. In the unlikely scenario that Lawler would miss the WCHA playoffs, the Badgers would still have plenty of firepower to take on Ohio State. According to Johnson, sophomore Hilary Knight may be the best player in the country this season.“If you look at our season and watched us play, obviously Hilary sticks out,” Johnson said. “She’s had an outstanding season.”Currently, Knight leads the country in goals and is ranked second in the nation in points.Badgers face Buckeyes in first roundIn the first round, Wisconsin will face an Ohio State team it swept during the regular season. The top seed in the tournament belongs to Minnesota, a team that Wisconsin battled all year long for the top spot nationally. Although a tournament crown would provide some vindication for the Badgers, the team is focused on its first round match.“The most important thing for us is the game Friday and taking care of business,” Johnson said.In the team’s first round match against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin will be playing at the Eagle’s Nest in Verona, Wis. A smaller arena than the Kohl Center, the Eagle’s Nest represents a challenge all on its own.“Obviously it’s not our choice, but it is what it is and you have to deal with it,” Johnson said.If Wisconsin does make it to the semifinals of the tournament, they will play at the Ridder Arena in Minneapolis a week later.Regardless of where the Badgers are playing, Johnson feels the team is excited about the chance to skate for a WCHA title and NCAA championship.“A lot of the players get geared up for this two week season,” Johnson said. “Anytime if you get a chance to play for a championship, it brings the best out in people.”
It’s hard to believe it’s taken more than two years, spanning the better part of three seasons.But Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, the Wisconsin football team finally did something it hasn’t in 34 contests dating back to Sept. 15, 2012 against Utah State: it won a close game.Since that 16-14 victory over the Aggies, who, coincidentally, were coached by current UW head coach Gary Andersen at the time, Wisconsin has lost every game decided by seven points or fewer.The Badgers haven’t struggled by any means over the course of the last three seasons. They’ve lost just 11 games in that time, and two of those were bowl games. But of those 11 defeats, all but one of them came by more than a touchdown. The only one that wasn’t within seven points was a 34-24 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl last January. That’s 11 losses by a combined 58 points.Wisconsin has been on the verge of some special victories in that time, too. They did finish 8-6 and 9-4 in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but just think if the Badgers had been able to finish games. They might have won the Rose Bowl in 2013 against Stanford, and they could have had a completely different season last year that maybe would have involved another trip to the Big Ten Championship game. But for a collection of different reasons, the Badgers just couldn’t get over that final hump. They could get close, but those maybes never materialized and close just didn’t cut it.And then there’s this year. The Badgers led 17-7 over LSU at halftime, but gave up 21 points in the second half in what could have been a signature win. Then in Evanston in the first Big Ten game of the season, the Badgers squandered a 259-yard performance from Melvin Gordon and threw away a chance to tie the game in the late going.The Badgers could be, and probably should be, undefeated right now, at least if they were able to win the close games. But instead of talking about a possible playoff berth heading into the final game of the regular season, it’s just about making the Big Ten Championship Game.But the fact that there’s even talk about going to the Big Ten Championship game has a lot to do with finally breaking through in a close game. Sure, Wisconsin still could have moved on to Indianapolis after next weekend, but the scenario would have been much more complicated if they had lost to the Hawkeyes. The two-point victory over Iowa kept UW in control of its own fate, and instead of having to rely on Iowa to lose to Nebraska next weekend along with beating the Gophers, the Badgers can just get a win and move on.Now, for once we can look back at how Wisconsin finally crested the hill rather than sliding back down it. And in doing that, the gaze doesn’t fall in just one direction because Wisconsin is no longer as one-dimensional as it once was.In the season-opening loss to LSU, you might remember that redshirt junior quarterback Tanner McEvoy started and was underwhelming at best with his paltry 50 yards through the air. When Wisconsin lost for the second time, again the quarterbacks cost Wisconsin the game, with redshirt junior Joel Stave throwing three interceptions in his first game back.The quarterbacks have continued to progress to the point of being using interchangeably, but in an important game against Nebraska last week, neither really factored into the outcome.But with Melvin Gordon slowed Saturday, Stave and McEvoy had the game in their hands for the first time since the loss to the Wildcats. And they both came through. Stave added his skill set, while McEvoy complimented the Wisconsin offense with his unique abilities. They did what was expected of them to keep Wisconsin in the game with Gordon struggling to do anything on the ground.That’s what kept Wisconsin in the game, but that’s not what won the game for the Badgers. The win came from McEvoy and Stave doing what they needed to, and then a little bit more. But it wasn’t just the two quarterbacks; Melvin Gordon seized the moment too. He made the most of a 200-yard game on the ground, and transformed into Wisconsin’s top receiver on the second to last drive with two grabs for 45 yards, leading UW to the end zone on what proved to be the winning score.And that’s the piece that had been missing in the 34 games Wisconsin went without winning a game that came down to one possession. It wasn’t necessarily missing a certain type of player like Gordon, Stave or McEvoy. It was related somewhat to not having enough balance, but it wasn’t that much either.It was about making the right play at the right time. That’s what Gordon did when he caught a 35-yard pass on a 3rd-and-12 to move the chains. It’s what Stave did too, when he scrambled for 12 yards to pick up the final first down of the game while absorbing a huge hit in the process. And despite struggling in the second half, it’s also what the defense did when redshirt senior Marcus Trotter and the Badgers denied a 2-point conversion to stay up 19-17 in the fourth quarter.The Badgers made the right plays Saturday to scratch out a hard-earned victory. The same will be required next Saturday when they take on Minnesota.