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Leuer’s return to court underwhelming

February 23, 2010

When junior forward Jon Leuer emerged from the locker room in uniform Thursday for the first time in 40 days, the question was when, not if, he would see his first action since Jan. 9.

There he sat, for the first 2:22 of the contest, watching his teammates from the bench, a familiar spot for Leuer, who had missed the team’s last nine games. What happened next was something relatively new for the native of Orono, Minn.

With 17:38 remaining in the first half of the contest between Wisconsin and Minnesota, Leuer entered the lineup in place of guard Tim Jarmusz, seeing his first action in nearly six weeks. According to Leuer, though, nothing had really changed in his time off.

“When you’re out there, you’ve got to be ready to go,” he said. “The game doesn’t change at all, you just have to really start picking up on things when you get back in there.”

Leuer played 26 minutes in his return, which was down only 1.2 minutes from what the 6-foot-10 forward had averaged before his Jan. 9 injury. In those 26 minutes, though, Leuer was decidedly less effective than usual.

Several of Leuer’s 12 shot attempts in the game were well off the mark, while a few of them were questionable to begin with in terms of shot selection.

Out of 12 shot attempts, Leuer converted on only two for four points, far less than the 15.4 points he had averaged before his injury. He also grabbed one defensive rebound and added one block, both of which were down — albeit only slightly for his number of blocks — from his averages of 6.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

After saying he felt “game ready” earlier in the week, Leuer was less than satisfied with his performance.

“It’s not what I expected,” he said. “I would have liked to have played better and helped the team more, obviously. But you know, that’s just what it is. I’ve just got to learn from that and hopefully get better.”

On the defensive end, Leuer did not do much to slow down the Gophers’ pair of 6-foot-11 forwards. Both Damian Johnson and Ralph Sampson III reached double digits in scoring, contributing 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Johnson and Sampson also combined for 12 rebounds in the game.

Minnesota’s strong inside presence, combined with the lack of one for Wisconsin against the Gophers’ 2-3 zone despite Leuer’s return was one of the deciding factors in the Badgers’ 68-52 loss Thursday.

In his postgame press conference, head coach Bo Ryan thought Leuer’s performance was about what could have been expected for his first game back. Ryan was not worried about Leuer’s inaccuracy during his return from injury.

He also noted lineup changes due to foul trouble for starting forward Keaton Nankivil resulted in a change from the original game plan regarding Leuer’s return.

“I thought 20 to 25 minutes max was what he could get,” Ryan said. “He’ll find his mark. That wasn’t Jon’s fault or anything. … He’s still a good player; he still means a lot to us.”

According to assistant head coach Greg Gard, Leuer’s 2-for-12 performance may have had more to do with shot selection than an inability to make open shots.

That, Gard said, is something Leuer has to readjust to after an extended time off.

“I think maybe some of the shots Jon would like to have back, or maybe take a different shot at different times,” Gard said. “It’s going to take him a little while. Everybody’s expecting him to start where he left off — you step away from something for five to six weeks, it’s not going to be back.

“It’s like not golfing for five to six weeks,” Gard continued. “You’re not going to hit it down the middle — maybe Andy (North) can, but the rest of us can’t.”

Leuer echoed his coach’s comments, adding that he thought he had gotten tentative at times and perhaps his timing was off after so much time away from the game.

On a more positive note, Leuer’s left wrist — the one in which he fractured a bone in the Badgers’ Jan. 9 win over Purdue — felt no adverse effects during Thursday’s game.

“It felt pretty good,” Leuer said of his wrist. “Obviously, I’m not used to playing with something on it, so that’s kind of been an adjustment. But for the most part, it felt pretty good. It was pretty much pain free.”

A day later, Leuer said it felt no differently than it had on the days leading up to Wisconsin’s game against Minnesota at Williams Arena.

Ryan, Leuer and Gard all remained optimistic that the junior forward would continue to improve on a game-by-game basis.

According to Ryan, it’s just a matter of getting the chemistry and timing back between Leuer and his teammates; and that’s something that he said can only come with time.

“Our players need to have Jon in practice more,” Ryan said. “And Jon needs to get more reps in practice.”

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