February 03, 2015

James Blackmon suffered a season-ending knee injury two days before the start of Big Ten play, at the time making the idea that Indiana could have its best conference start in 23 years pretty far-fetched.

That is exactly what's happened for the 19th-ranked Hoosiers, who have simplified their offensive game without one of their top scorers and improved defensively.

Extending their winning streak to 13 for the first time under coach Tom Crean, though, requires a victory over pesky Wisconsin on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, where the Hoosiers haven't won since 1998.

Blackmon averaged 15.8 points in 13 games for Indiana (17-3, 7-0) before being injured in a non-contact drill in practice Dec. 28. The Hoosiers were averaging 89.1 points but giving up 70 per game during that span.

Indiana, though, has allowed fewer than that in each of its last six while securing its best start in conference play since winning its first 13 Big Ten games in 1992-93. The Hoosiers' scoring dipped to 72.3 points per game in their first three without Blackmon, but they're averaging 86.8 over the last four.

They hit a school-record 19 3-pointers in a 103-69 rout of Illinois last Tuesday before clamping down on Northwestern in Saturday's 89-57 victory. Indiana now is on the verge of winning 13 straight for the first time since 2007-08, one season before Crean arrived.

''The more simple we can make our passing and the more active we can be in our cutting, the better we are. And we're moving the ball, there's no question about that,'' Crean said. ''Really the last week, we've done a good job of being on time, on target and that's so crucial.''

The Hoosiers had to rely on their defense in the first meeting with Wisconsin, though, scoring their fewest points of the season in a 59-58 win Jan. 5 while holding the Badgers to 41.3 percent.

Yogi Farrell had 19 points in that contest and hit a tiebreaking jumper with 38 seconds remaining before nailing four free throws in the final 13 seconds to help secure the victory.

"We saw what they could do at their place, and I thought we had our chances there to have a different outcome," Wisconsin interim coach Greg Gard said. "(Crean) has them playing extremely well. They're very confident offensively and they've improved defensively. Having a senior point guard as good as Yogi Farrell, he's really the engine that drives that whole machine."

Gard feels the Badgers (11-9, 3-4) have improved since the first meeting, too. They ended a three-game losing streak that began with the defeat in Bloomington with a 77-76 home win over then-No. 4 Michigan State before holding on for a 66-60 win at Penn State on Thursday.

Bronson Koenig scored a career-high 27 points against the Spartans before freshman Ethan Happ's deciding layup with 10 seconds remaining. Happ then finished with a season-high 20 points and added 11 rebounds against the Nittany Lions.

"I've talked with the team over the last few days (and told them), 'I think you're better. I think you've improved,'" Gard said. "Now is our chance to show it."

Wisconsin's five home losses are its most since going 8-8 in Madison in 1997-98, when Indiana last won at the Kohl Center. It has dropped 13 straight there since, including eight by double digits.

"The Big Ten's a tough league. Everybody can win on any given night," Hoosiers forward Collin Hartman said. "If you don't come ready to play, you're going to get beat."

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