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Penney turns up defensive intensity

Last Updated: Jan. 16, 2003

Madison - Kirk Penney can score. That is news to absolutely no one who follows the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.

The moment that the senior guard steps into the gym he's within his range and, more or less, has the green light to shoot.

Penney has been scoring in droves since he first donned a UW uniform in 1999. His shooting percentage and average points per game have increased each season, but what goes unnoticed by some is that Penney has turned it up on the defensive end of the court.

Consider: All of last season, Penney had 20 steals; after just 15 games this season, he has 13. And while the New Zealand native is not exactly a shot-blocking threat, he's just one block away from matching his personal career-high of five established as a sophomore.

For someone known strictly for his offensive prowess, those numbers represent steps in the right direction for Penney, and are the result of additional time spent improving his game on the "other" end of the court.

"You always try to improve as a player," Penney said Wednesday after his 22-point performance against Minnesota, "and that's something I definitely needed to improve on in my eyes. It's just as important as the offensive end. Just trying to get stops down the stretch, especially in a game like that where we needed to close it out."

The only questionable part of Penney's defense Wednesday night came with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first half when he was called for a foul.

The call was debatable, so Penney asked the official what happened. When the official motioned that he came over the top with a clubbing action, all Penney could say was, "Did I really?"

Penney went about his business, after a momentary look of disbelief, and didn't let the situation affect his game. A lesser player might allow the call haunt him for the rest of the game, but not Penney.

He keeps the highs and the lows in perspective. Things are never so good and never so bad.

"Kirk's been right on the verge, he's had some good games," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I thought defensively he really did a good job for the entire time he was out on the floor, other than the lay-up that he gave up at the end. He was still pretty upset about that.

"We all know how important the seniors are, whether it's Kirk Penney or anybody else, it is important that leadership by example is displayed. And Kirk did a very good job of that on both ends."

Penney's dedication to improving defensively has rubbed off on his teammates. The Badgers epitomize the concept of team defense, and they'll call on it frequently throughout the Big Ten schedule.

"I think it's something that needed to be improved," Penney added. "This year it's something we're constantly working on, just going out there and having intensity the whole time."

Brett Longdin is the sports coordinator for Journal Interactive.