February 28, 2015

Denzel Valentine hasn't completely recovered from last month's knee surgery. Michigan State is looking to again capitalize on a favorable matchup in its own attempt at a recovery.

The fourth-ranked Spartans attempt to send struggling Wisconsin to a fourth straight loss for the first time in seven years Sunday.

Valentine missed four games after undergoing minor surgery to remove cartilage in his left knee. In two games since returning, the guard has totaled 24 points while making 9 of 23 from the floor, including 4 of 14 from beyond the arc.

That's all well below his season marks, averaging 17.6 points while hitting 44.8 percent from the field and 38.5 from 3-point range.

In his first start in nearly a month Thursday, Valentine scored 14 points while making 5 of 12 field-goal attempts while Michigan State trailed by 22 at the half before falling 76-59 to No. 16 Iowa.

"He's not back to normal," coach Tom Izzo said of Valentine.

The Spartans (16-2, 3-2 in Big Ten) lost 83-70 at Iowa without Valentine on Dec. 29, but followed that with wins over Minnesota, Illinois and Penn State, who are a combined 3-14 in conference play.

They'll try to bounce back at Wisconsin (9-9, 1-4), but they've dropped 10 of their last 12 visits to Madison.

Valentine's 16 points, eight rebounds and six assists weren't enough in an 80-69 overtime loss to the then-sixth-ranked Badgers in last year's Big Ten conference tournament championship.

Michigan State's Bryn Forbes scored 21 points in a 68-61 defeat at Wisconsin last March. However, he matched his season low with two points while dealing with four trouble Thursday after averaging 19.0 during the three-game winning streak.

"Bryn struggles when people are physical," Izzo said.

The Badgers are facing the possibility of enduring their longest losing streak since dropping six straight from Jan. 11-31, 2009.

Frustration is growing after Tuesday's 70-65 loss at Northwestern.

"I'm extremely (ticked) right now with the way things are going," forward Nigel Hayes said after scoring 17 points while six of the other seven Badgers failed to reach double digits. "Got to push the guys and guys will push me. We'll start to do things the right way and get some wins."

Hayes led the way with 25 against the Spartans in last year's conference title game, while Bronson Koenig scored 18 with nine assists.

Koenig managed five points with eight assists while going 2 for 11 from the floor over his three prior meetings with Michigan State.

He had nine points Tuesday while freshman forward Ethan Happ chipped in 12.

Wisconsin is 2-4 since Bo Ryan unexpectedly retired, leaving athletic director Barry Alvarez to turn to assistant Greg Gard.

Gard doesn't seem concerned with having to impress his boss.

"I've never worried about that," he said. "I've said from Day 1 I've always had a one-year contract in 26 years of coaching. My job is to help these guys be the best team they can be this year."

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