MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wisconsin's 14th straight NCAA tournament appearance didn't look all that likely two months ago.
The Badgers began the season 1-3 in the Big Ten, including a pair of rare home losses -- one of which came to Iowa. When they weren't hitting 3-pointers, they were a surprisingly easy out.
But the Badgers' season turned around after a Jan. 12 victory at Purdue, and Wisconsin finished the season strong enough to secure a No. 4 seed in the East region. They play No. 13 seed Montana on Thursday afternoon.
"We've battled back from a 1-3 start," forward Jared Berggren said. "But, look, now none of that stuff really matters. That part of the season's over, and now it's one game at a time. It's do or die now, and I think we've shown a lot of stuff that can help us be successful. We've had games where a lot of different guys have chipped in and helped us be successful."
Badgers coach Bo Ryan acknowledged that there were times when he wondered if this year's team would end up making the tournament.
"You never know about that part. Will they buy in? Will they, on defense, help each other? Will they?" Ryan said. "We've had some players on our team who became a lot tougher throughout the season, defensively, became more involved."
Ryan pointed specifically to backup guard Rob Wilson, who played 32 minutes in the Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan State -- in part because he scored a career-high 30 points in a victory over Indiana a day earlier, and in part because of his improved defense.
"One of the reasons Rob got extra minutes, not just because he had a good shooting night, but, defensively, his feet were moving better, anticipating," Ryan said.
The Badgers finished the season ranked No. 1 in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing 52.9 points per game.
But as they showed in the loss to Michigan State, they still can have issues guarding athletic big men.
"I think for myself, I didn't do nearly as good of a job as I could've have keeping the ball out of the post," Berggren said. "There were a couple of times where I maybe took some gambles trying to deflect a pass away that I ended up missing, ended up giving up easy buckets and didn't do a great job of rebounding; things that you can always work to improve on. It's something that I'll have to do a better job of no matter who we're playing."
Berggren said the Badgers will try to take lessons from that game into the tournament.
"Michigan State's a good team," Berggren said. "They kind of took us out of what we were successful with in the past, and a lot of credit has to go to them. They're a very good team. They earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament for a reason.
"Some of that's on them, and some of it's on us, too, of just not executing our stuff, not taking care of the ball and sticking to our defensive principles; things that help us be successful. So there's room for improvement. We try to learn from our mistakes and do better next time."
Senior point guard Jordan Taylor said one loss won't hurt the Badgers' confidence.
"We feel like we're going to come out and play well," Taylor said. "That's the only mindset you can go into a game with. Obviously, we lost to a really good Michigan State team, but we feel confident. We feel like we've been playing well over the past month and a half, couple months, so just go out there and play hard and leave it all out there."
Now comes Montana, a team on a 14-game winning streak. The Grizzlies haven't lost since Jan. 14 at Weber State. The Grizzlies will be familiar with Ryan's system thanks to assistant coach Freddie Owens, a former Badgers player.
"I have not seen them play," Berggren said. "Pretty much the only thing I know, I guess, is I know Freddie Owens is an assistant there, which is kind of cool, having a former player, someone that obviously knows a lot about our program and what Coach Ryan likes to do. But other than that, I haven't seen a whole lot about them. I know they're a good team. Every team that makes this tournament is good, and I'm sure the coaches will do a great job of getting us prepared in the next few days and have us ready to go by Thursday."