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Badgers, No. 14 Huskers know all about close games

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Badgers, No. 14 Huskers know all about close games

MADISON, Wis. (AP) The courses for the Big Ten championship game opponents were set when they met in late September.

Nebraska came back from a 17-point, third-quarter deficit to beat Wisconsin 30-27 in the conference opener.

The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers continued to win close games. The Badgers kept losing them.

Another tight game is expected when Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) and Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4) get together again Saturday night in Indianapolis. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to play Stanford or UCLA.

Wisconsin, trying for a third straight trip to Pasadena, is coming off overtime losses in three of its past four games. The Badgers finished third in the Leaders Division but go to the championship game because of NCAA sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State.

Four of the Badgers' losses this season have been by three points and the other by seven.

``You hate to go down that way, but you like to see the fight that we've had,'' linebacker Chris Borland said Monday. ``I think as far as the reason for the close losses - I think we've done things well, and maybe haven't executed in the clutch like we could. All the things you need to win are there. It's just a matter of sealing the deal, which I think we've gotten better at despite it not showing in the games.''

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Wisconsin has proved to be dangerous and could easily have a better record.

``I don't put any stock into anything that's happened up to this point,'' Pelini said. ``It's going to be 60 minutes of football, and the team that earns it on Saturday is going to come away with the win. It's going to be a tough game, no question.''

Wisconsin led or was tied going into the fourth quarter in three of its losses. Since the 2010 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin has lost nine games by a touchdown or less.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema said his team has struggled late in games because several key players have been missing or limited. He said Monday his team needed to capitalize on opportunities.

A little luck might have helped, too.

``I do think there's a certain amount of, does the ball bounce the right way?'' Bielema said. ``Do you get a call? Do you not get a call? I got done with the Ohio State game and was very, very upset with the way things unfolded in overtime. You need a break here or there. I do think good things happen to good people - not that people that we've been playing aren't good people. I want to make sure our guys understand that perseverance will prevail.''

Running back Montee Ball said he could have done more to help. Ball fumbled late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State when he attempted to jump over a pile to extend the ball on the goal line on a fourth-and-1 play when the Badgers trailed 14-7.

``A couple times we had penalties where we started behind the chains and that really hurt us,'' Ball said. ``A couple plays that, myself, I could have done better on, probably could have done better on. And the same for every other player.

``I guess what the team will learn for next year and from (the Penn State loss) and our bowl game is that every play matters. You never know if the first play is going to decide the game or the last play. You've got to approach every play like it's the deciding factor of the game.''

Nebraska came from behind in the second half to post five of its seven Big Ten wins. The Huskers made up double-digit deficits in four of those games on their way to the Legends Division title.

While the Badgers struggled to finish, the Huskers closed strong. In the seven Big Ten wins, the Huskers outgained their opponent 112-47 in the fourth quarter. The Huskers outgained Wisconsin 113-33 the final 15 minutes of their Sept. 29 meeting.

``It was definitely a good start for the comebacks we had down the road this year,'' Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead said. ``It helped us out in some tight games with Northwestern, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa.''

Pelini struggled to explain why Nebraska has come out on the right side of the close games this year. He said team chemistry and experience help, and so does having a third-year starting quarterback in Taylor Martinez.

Pelini said another ingredient - the one Bielema wishes his team had more of - played a role, too.

``Let's face it,'' Pelini said, ``there is some luck involved.''

---

AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

MORE 2018 NBA DRAFT COVERAGE:

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