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February 28, 2014

Big challenge ahead in Lions' final home tilt

Following Thursday night's 65-63 win against the No. 22-ranked Buckeyes, Patrick Chambers and the Penn State men's basketball team lifted themselves into a ninth-place tie in the Big Ten standings with three games to play.

With games remaining against Minnesota and Northwestern, both of whom are within striking distance in the standings, the opportunity remains for the Nittany Lions to build on the highest win total in Chambers' short tenure at Penn State.

Not without getting past one of the toughest hurdles of the entire season first, though.

Taking on No. 14-ranked Wisconsin Sunday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center in the Nittany Lions' final home game of the season (noon, BTN),

Friday morning, Chambers met with the media for his weekly teleconference and offered some limited insight into the Badger team that is riding a six-game winning streak and has a 23-5 overall record for the season.

"They're one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, if not the country," Chambers said. "Their style of play is unique. They've got some great leadership from a veteran group. It's going to be a great challenge for us, especially coming off this win.

"Hopefully we've learned from big victories and big wins where we can jump right back in at practice, clear our heads and continue along on the process here."

In Penn State's only other win against a Top 25-ranked opponent this season, a 71-70 overtime thriller in Columbus a month ago, the NIttany Lions managed to follow with a 79-68 win against Purdue at the BJC the next game out.

Certainly, though, Bo Ryan's Badgers represent quite a different level of challenge than that of the Boilermakers. At 10-5 in the league, Wisconsin opened the year on a 16-game winning streak before dropping five of its next six in an uncharacteristic skid.

Bouncing back with a win at Illinois, the Badgers proceeded to earn three wins against Top 15 opponents, including Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa, respectively.

With an RPI of No. 5 in the country for the 2013-14 season and staring down an outside shot at a Big Ten title, Chambers acknowledged some of the challenges the Badgers will present on Sunday afternoon.

"From what I've seen, (Traevon) Jackson and (Josh) Gasser and (Sam) Dekker and (Frank) Kaminsky, I mean, they've got some really, really talented players," Chambers said, noting the Badgers' 45.7 team shooting percentage and 36.9 percent clip from beyond the arc. "They've got pretty good depth. They can shoot the heck out of the ball.

"That's probably our weakness right now is three-point defense obviously, although it's gotten a lot better. They work the ball around so well, they make the extra pass, so our defense has really gotta be in tune. We all gotta be dialed into exactly what we need to do to execute the game plan to the best of our ability, but with so many shooters on the floor, it presents a great problem."

Notes:

- Sunday afternoon marks the first annual 'Team Ream' day at the Bryce Jordan Center in honor of State College native, Penn State alum, and longtime hoops supporter Brandon Ream, who lost his long battle with cancer in November.

Basketball and football alumni will be in attendance, plus special guests Jamie Bestwick and Shawn Johnson, among others, will sign autographs on the concourse before the game. Additionally, there will be a memorial presentation at halftime and following the game, a special post-game bike demonstration will be held.

For complete details on the event, click here.

- Coming off Thursday night's confidence-boosting win against the Buckeyes, potential indicators of the Nittany Lions' progress under Chambers seemed to present themselves.

Earning the first season sweep against the Buckeyes dating back to the 1997-98 season, Penn State improved to 2-3 against ranked teams on the year. Yet, according to Chambers, the win was of little significance to the ultimate vision of the program he's pushing for at Penn State.

"We gotta win games. We gotta continue to get better. What I would tell you is, we're getting closer. You guys love hearing me say that, but we are. We're getting closer and we're competing at a high level, and we gotta keep doing it," he said. "You can't have two games, getting beat by Iowa and Nebraska like that. We gotta find some consistency.

"Now, everybody throughout the league is doing that as well, but I'm looking for consistency, I'm looking for some fight, I'm looking for a competitive spirit on your own floor when you're competing. We're getting there. We're taking baby steps, but we're getting there."









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