The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, December 08, 2021 1:00 am

Leal living dream with IU

Hoosiers looking for 1st win at Wisconsin since 1998

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

The last time Indiana won a road game against Wisconsin, no one on the Hoosiers’ current roster was born yet. 

That most recent victory in Madison came in January 1998, less than two weeks after the opening of the Kohl Center, the Badgers’ home the last 23 years. Since then, Indiana has lost 18 in a row in its own personal house of pain, a stretch that has endured despite three Big Ten titles and a Final Four run for the Hoosiers in the interim.

They’ll get their next chance to exorcise those demons when they meet the 22nd-ranked Badgers (7-1, 0-0 Big Ten) in Wisconsin tonight.

The losing streak at the Kohl Center nearly ended last season, when then-freshman guard Anthony Leal played a career-high 35 minutes and nailed three 3-pointers, including a go-ahead long ball in overtime. Indiana fell 80-73 in double-overtime, but it seemed as though Leal, a Bloomington native and the 2020 Indiana Mr. Basketball, had begun to cement a role for himself on his hometown team.

Instead, the 6-foot-5 guard slipped from the rotation near the end of former coach Archie Miller’s final season in Bloomington and did not play at all in the Hoosiers’ Big Ten Tournament loss to Rutgers. 

After limited playing time in the first weeks of new coach Mike Woodson’s tenure, Leal reemerged Saturday, coming off the bench to hit a 3, dish two assists and grab a steal in a brief-but-impactful 2:25 stretch that helped the Hoosiers overcome an early 10-point deficit against Nebraska.

Leal’s teammates were not surprised he found a way to contribute.

“I don’t think anything was holding him back, I think he was just searching for a spot,” forward Race Thompson said. “We have a lot of good players playing in the guard spot. ... You see Anthony every day in practice he goes 125% every single day, and he really deserves it.

“I don’t think any of us are surprised that he goes out there, gets a steal, makes a shot; that’s what he does every single day in practice. So I’m really proud of him.”

Leal, who played 12 minutes in the 68-55 Indiana victory over the Cornhuskers, rewarded the faith of Woodson, who had spoken only days earlier about needing to get the sophomore some minutes.

“I think he deserves to play a little now,” the Indiana coach said. “He gives you toughness and he can make shots, so I’ve got to figure out how to get him in the game some.”

Leal says he spends every day in practice “playing as hard as I can and trying to make winning plays.”

Eventually, he earned his shot – hitting 4 of 6 from 3-point range to start the season did not hurt in that endeavor – and he’ll likely get more chances in the coming weeks as Indiana awaits the return of guard Trey Galloway from a broken wrist.

“When I was kid, I was dreaming about being exactly where I’m at right now,” Leal said. “I gotta have some perspective about that, know that every day I get to put the jersey on is a blessing, so have as much as fun as I can. When you have that reason you’re doing it, it makes it a lot easier to take some of the pressures away.”


at Wisconsin

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.

Records: Indiana (7-1, 1-0 Big Ten), No. 22 Wisconsin (7-1, 0-0)

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: 92.3 FM

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