MILWAUKEE -- As a native of the state, Greg Gard has no problem understanding the significance of the Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry, which continues Saturday morning when the teams meet at the Bradley Center for the 123rd installment of a series that dates to 1917.
Gard has had a front-row seat for the last 13 meetings between the two teams, serving as top assistant to Bo Ryan, but this will be his first as head coach, having taken over for Ryan just days after Marquette stunned the Badgers 57-55 a year ago in Madison.
"You appreciate the tradition you appreciate the games that have taken place in the past ... just the players that have played in that game, the coaches that have coached in it," Gard said. "Obviously you have two programs in the state who have had success. You appreciate those things."
The Badgers (8-2) come to Milwaukee ranked No. 17 in the nation and on a roll, having won four in a row and seven of their last eight, with only a loss to then-No. 4 North Carolina during that stretch.
Nigel Hayes scored a season-high 28 points against Oklahoma last weekend and is shooting 58.3 percent from the field during those four games.
Wisconsin's defense has been strong too, holding eight of the last eight opponents to season-low scoring totals and is fourth in the nation with a plus-14.5 rebounding margin.
But that defense will be tested by Marquette's talented sophomore backcourt of Traci Carter and Hannif Cheatham while senior 7-footer Luke Fischer is an imposing force in the middle and Sam Hauser has been dangerous from long distance.
During its five-game winning streak, Fischer is 31-for-36 from the field and Hauser is hitting 3-pointers at a 56 percent clip (14-of-25) for Marquette (7-2).
"It's really exciting to play them," said Hauser, a native of Stevens Point, Wis., earlier this week. "It's a big game for all of us. We really have to lock in these next two days and prepare and buy into the details of what they're going to do and how we're going to defend it. ... We're 2-0 so far this week and looking to make it 3-0."
Carter, averaging 4.3 points and 3.6 assists per game, sat out Marquette's 84-81 victory over Fresno State earlier this week with a sore left knee and is considered day-to-day, according to head coach Steve Wojciechowski.
"He had a couple knee surgeries in high school," Wojciechowski said. "It's not a surgery thing (this time), he's just got to feel better."
Wojciechowski will be facing the Badgers for third time in his head coaching career.
"What I've seen is one of the best teams in the United States," Wojciechowski said. "The very first thing you recognize with them is they have a tremendous amount of winning experience. They have guys who are in supremely key roles that are accustomed to winning. (Bronson) Koenig and Hayes have been a part of I don't know how many wins there, (Zak) Showalter's the same."
Wisconsin has won three of the last five meetings between the two teams in Milwaukee and 11 of the last 20 games overall.