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Copyright 2002 Madison Newspapers, Inc.  
Wisconsin State Journal

December 23, 2002 Monday

Vic Feuerherd Wisconsin State Journal





Maybe Kirk Penney's 23-point performance Saturday was exactly what the University of Wisconsin senior swingman needed to quiet the whispers that had developed after the previous three men's basketball games.

The Badgers' sharpshooter and international basketball

star shot 15 of 42 from the field (35.7 percent) in that span after hitting nearly 50 percent of his shots (30-61) in the first five games.

Has Penney, who played for the New Zealand national team in the summer, played too much basketball in the past year? "Ridiculous," he said after an 81-58 win over Texas Southern at the Kohl Center Saturday.

"When it's your last year and your last go around, it really doesn't matter what has gone before. You look at the situation in front of you.

"The experiences you've had in the near past are experiences to learn from in terms of games. But right now, it doesn't matter. This is it. When it's your last go around, it's exciting, and you never consider anything being anything else but at your best."

There's little doubt that the Badgers need Penney at his best, not just tonight when UW faces Ohio at the Kohl Center, but over the long run, especially the 16-game, Big Ten Conference regular season that begins Jan. 8 at Michigan.

Penney's availability for tonight's game came into question when he injured a leg and sat out part of practice Sunday.

Penney has been UW's leading scorer three times this season. Penney, who leads UW in scoring at 17.3 points per game, said the key when he is struggling with his shot is finding other ways to contribute.

"Every now and then your shot may not go down, so you look for other ways to get things done," he said. "That's any aspect of the game. It's a matter of taking the highs and lows and moving forward."

Penney doesn't believe playing fewer minutes might make a difference. He is averaging a shade under 33 minutes per game. He played 32 minutes Saturday and 30 minutes in a rout of New Hampshire earlier this month. But it's hard for him to fathom how playing just 25 minutes in those two games might save something for later in the season.

"It doesn't make a difference; it doesn't mean a thing," Penney said.

Last season, UW coach Bo Ryan, made practices less rigorous as the season wore on. He did the same thing last week when the players were taking final exams.

In the meantime, don't expect Penney to ask for any breaks.

"I can't sit back and watch my teammates working hard knowing I have to do it," he said. "We're all here for the same purpose, to enjoy the journey. Working hard every day is part of it."