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Seniors lead the way as Badgers finish perfect at home

February 28, 2011 Comments off

MADISON, Wis. — With 35 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game, Bo Ryan called a timeout. But with a 14-point lead, the Wisconsin head coach’s decision had nothing to do with game strategy.

As the UW student section chanted, “We want J.P.,” Ryan called for his three senior reserves, who entered in place of the Badgers’ three senior starters. One by one, Tim Jarmusz, Keaton Nankivil and Jon Leuer received standing ovations from the crowd.

Walking off the court at the Kohl Center for the last time, Leuer hugged Ryan, as the students had switched to “Thank you, seniors.” Taking a seat on the bench, the three seniors got the opportunity to watch Wisconsin’s final offensive possession of its 78-63 victory over Northwestern.

“It hasn’t really set in yet, I don’t think, for me,” Leuer said. “I definitely have a lot of emotions going. It’s just been an unbelievable four years here at the Kohl Center, and I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Just 22 seconds after they had entered, Wisconsin’s other three seniors were given their moment. Like the three starters, Wquinton Smith, Brett Valentyn and J.P. Gavinski walked off the court, one by one, for the last time.

It will not go down as the best game in the careers of the six seniors, but for the last one they’ll play at home, they were happy to come away with the victory. More often than not, that has been the result at the Kohl Center during their four years.

With a home record of 61-6 over four years, the 2011 senior class finished with a winning percentage of better than 91 percent at the Kohl Center. Overall, the Badgers have gone 97-33 over the same stretch, already making Wisconsin’s current seniors the winningest class in school history.

UW finished 16-0 at home this season, marking just the third time in 80 years the Badgers have gone undefeated at home.

“When we’re at the Kohl Center, we don’t plan on losing,” Leuer said. “Ever. This team did that this year, and I think that’s one of our goals.”

But the final score hardly indicates how close Wisconsin was to suffering its first home loss in nearly a year. With 7:14 remaining in the game, a 3-pointer from John Shurna drew Northwestern within three points at 58-55.

Five minutes later, a rare Jordan Taylor turnover allowed the Wildcats to score twice in just 10 seconds to cut the lead from 11 points to seven with 2:22 to go in the game. On the next trip down the court, Nankivil hit a 3-pointer to put the Badgers back up by 10 points and spark an 8-0 Wisconsin run to close out the game.

While the Wisconsin fans may not have shared his confidence, junior point guard Jordan Taylor said afterward that he never believed the outcome was in doubt.

“I just felt like we were always in control, especially the way Jon was playing,” Taylor said.

With the way the first half had gone for the Badgers, the game looked to be an easy UW victory until the Wildcats made their second-half run. While Northwestern shot well throughout, Wisconsin was even better, especially in the game’s first 20 minutes.

UW scored 43 points in the first half matching the second-highest total for the Badgers in a first half during Big Ten play. Wisconsin’s 65.4 shooting percentage marked the team’s best-shooting first half this season and the team’s best-shooting half overall in Big Ten play this season.

Leading by 13 at the break, the Badgers extended it to a 16-point lead over the first three minutes of the second half on six points from Leuer. From there, however, the game’s momentum switched in Northwestern’s favor.

Fueled by their hot shooting from 3-point range, the Wildcats went on a 20-7 run over a nearly 10-minutes stretch. The run was sparked by a 3-pointer from Michael Thompson and capped by Shurna’s big shot that cut the lead to just three points.

For Ryan and the Badgers, the Wildcats’ run was something they expected.

“When you prepare for them, you talk about those kind of runs,” Ryan said. “You really do. I’ve seen them do that to other teams, and the other team gets down, the other team gets a little disjointed. And they’re going to do that at times. They’re going to go through those streaks.”

But with the Kohl Center crowd behind them as they have been so many times over their four years, the Wisconsin seniors — with a little help from Taylor and freshman guard Josh Gasser — held off Northwestern to ensure their perfect mark at home this season.

Even then, after all 16 home games had been won, Ryan made no mention of it to his team.

“It never was in a conversation that we had,” he said. “All I said after the game was we closed out the home portion of the schedule. Now we still have games to play. But I’ve never talked about it.

“They can read, they listen to their classmates. They know what’s going on. But we’ve never talked about a streak.”

Evans puts on show in victory over Boilermakers

February 3, 2011 Comments off

MADISON — As usual, Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor dominated the Badgers’ stat sheet Tuesday night against the Boilermakers.

But on a night when a blizzard turned the University of Wisconsin campus into a snow globe, it was Wisconsin’s lone Arizona native that stole the spotlight in the 66-59 victory over Purdue.

Sophomore swingman Ryan Evans delivered by far his best performance of the season, and one that ranks right up there among the best in his young career.

Something seemed to spark Evans on the night, as he continued to improve as the game went along. When asked about it, he attributed his energy to teammate Wquinton Smith and UW Chancellor Biddy Martin.

“It’s been a rough year for me,” Evans said. “But [my coaches and teammates] continuing to believe in me, I knew that something had to get me going. I think one of the big things in the second half was Q — Q got in a little toss up with [Lewis] Jackson — and Biddy, I don’t know if Biddy’s in here but Biddy announcing that we don’t have school tomorrow, that got the fans going some.

“It felt real good, and hopefully I just can continue.”

Evans shot 5-of-9 on the night for 10 points — his fifth career double-digit performance and first of the season — while grabbing one rebound and one steal. But the numbers on the box score hardly do Evans’ performance justice.

After scoring four points in nine first-half minutes, Evans hit three of the biggest shots of the night in the second half.

With his team trailing by six with 10 minutes to go, Evans slammed home a lob from Taylor, electrifying the crowd and completely changing the momentum of the game. But that dunk was only the beginning.

“Any time you can get a guy who can get the crowd off its feet like Ryan can — that dunk was big,” Taylor said. “It was probably almost perfect timing. It couldn’t get any better than that, it got the crowd back into it.”

With the crowd back behind them, the Badgers battled the Boilermakers in a back-and-forth game over the final 10 minutes, with a handful of plays by Evans putting Wisconsin over the top.

In the final minute, as UW trailed by one following a layup by Purdue guard D.J. Byrd, Evans got the ball just inside the lane and without hesitation, pulled up for the two-point jumper. As it went through with 50 seconds remaining, Evans gave the Badgers the lead back, and one they would not relinquish.

“Those are the shots that he can hit,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “That’s a very high percentage shot for him. So it wasn’t a surprise. If you look at the baskets he made last year, those are the types of shots that he shoots a very high percentage on.

“Looks good coming through the bottom of the net, because that means it makes the scoreboard move.”

With two big second half shots to his credit, Evans had more than done his part, especially considering he entered the game averaging just 2.7 points per game on the year and 0.8 points per contest in Big Ten play. But he still was not done.

After a Josh Gasser free throw gave Wisconsin a four-point lead with 31 seconds to play, Evans took the ball away from E’Twaun Moore on the other end. Evans’ steal set up a pair of Taylor free throws, which all but sealed the deal.

Finally, in a fitting end that he could not have scripted better himself, Evans delivered the game’s final points to give the Badgers the 66-59 victory.

Following a long rebound off a Moore missed three, Taylor found Evans streaking to the basket all alone. Once again, the crowd erupted as Evans threw down an emphatic breakaway dunk.

“We’ve been talking all year round about how we have guys that people might not think twice about just because they might not be the big names,” Taylor said. “Ryan, we’ve been saying what he can give to this team all year long. It was just a little show tonight, he can probably even add from there.”

 

Taylor drops 28 on Hoosiers

January 22, 2011 Comments off

MADISON — It was the Jordan show Thursday night at the Kohl Center.

One guard named Jordan got off to a hot start, pushing his team out to an early lead. The other came alive when his team needed him most, and sealed the deal late by dribbling out the game’s final seconds.

Less than five minutes into the game, Jordan Hulls scored 10 straight points for Indiana on four shots from the field, pushing the Hoosiers’ lead from 6-4 to 14-6. Hulls would add just six more points, however, finishing with a team-high 16 on 7-of-12 shooting.

Hulls, who averages 10 points per game, went 2-for-4 from 3-point range, which fell in line with his season average of 51.7 percent from long distance.

“You let your best players play,” IU head coach Tom Crean said of Hulls’ shooting. “Jordan took shots, he was very aggressive and I think there’s some growth with him on that part. I don’t think it’s anything special that we’re doing. We’ve been saying he needs to shoot the ball more since last year.”

Jordan Taylor, on the other hand, was just getting started after Hulls had completed his 10-point streak. With just four points on two layups to that point, Taylor exploded for a career-high 28 points while shooting 9-of-15 from the floor and a perfect 7-for-7 at the free throw line.

Taylor added his own stretch of eight straight points for the Badgers, which cut the Hoosiers’ lead to 19-18, midway through the first half. The junior guard also finished the first half with five straight to make it 34-30 at the break.

In the second half, Taylor really took control of the game, scoring nine of Wisconsin’s 11 points over a five-minute stretch that determined the outcome of the game. During that same time, the Badgers’ went from down 48-47 to a 58-52 lead.

“Jordan really progressed over the past three years,” said Wquinton Smith, who has guarded Taylor in practice over the same span. “He’s getting more confident with his shot and it’s more hard to guard him in practice. I get a little frustrated sometimes.

“That’s what he’s been showing against all the Big Ten guards. He’s holding his own, and to me is the best guard in the Big Ten.”

Smith, who was impressive in his own right with two points, two assists and a steal in 12 minutes of play, was far from the only one impressed by Taylor on the night.

Crean, a coach that is very familiar with Bo Ryan‘s program dating back to his time at Marquette, alluded to Taylor being comparable to former UW guard Devin Harris. As for his rank among current players, Crean said he thought Taylor was up their among the nation’s elite.

“I think Jordan Taylor’s not only one of the premier guards in the league — that’s obvious — I think he’s one of the premier guards in the country,” Crean said. “And it’s not just because he played great tonight. He is an outstanding player.

“He’s got all three facets when it comes to scoring — he can get to the rim with anybody, he’s got a great shot fake… he’s got the mid-range game, and he’s certainly got the 3-point game.”

Modest to the point of continually downplaying any personal accomplishments, Taylor credited his teammates Thursday any time he was asked about something he did.

Along with that modesty, however, Taylor has an unmistakable confidence about him that allows him to succeed. With his 28-point performance, Taylor took back the Big Ten scoring lead in conference games. He’s averaging 22 points per contest, one better than Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson at 21 points per game.

“Jordan, as people are finding out, is a pretty good player,” Ryan said. “He’s been very instrumental in putting us in the position that we’re in right now. And we’re definitely going to need him to continue to play like that, that’s for sure.”

Notebook: Gasser has historic debut

November 15, 2010 Comments off

MADISON – When asked about the kind of impact Josh Gasser could have, assistant coach Greg Gard said Wisconsin did not recruit him to sit on the bench.

Gasser didn’t wait too long to show why.

In his collegiate debut, the point guard from Port Washington scored 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting, while grabbing nine rebounds and dishing out three assists. Gasser also grabbed one steal against one turnover.

“He took care of the ball, he made great decisions,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “People will remember the points, but he did some other things pretty well.”

In just one game at Wisconsin, the 6-foot-3 guard has put his name in the record books, just behind Rashard Griffith.

With his 21-point debut, Gasser ranks second behind Griffith, who scored 27 on Nov. 27, 1993, in his first career collegiate game.

“Obviously that’s going to help his confidence level and that’s going to be great for us down the road,” Jordan Taylor said. “We knew what Josh could do, and we’ve been talking about that since the season started about guys having to prove themselves. He took a step toward doing that tonight.

“He almost had a double-double and the second-most points for a debut in Badger history. Maybe he’s the next like Devin Harris or something like that.”

What could make Gasser an essential piece to the Badgers offense, though, is his ability to grab nine rebounds in 26 minutes at the guard position.

As long as he continues to take care of the ball and play confident, aggressive basketball, Gasser will continue to see minutes, even when Rob Wilson returns. Gasser’s aggressive style showed in the 10 free throw attempts and the fact that six of his nine rebounds came on the offensive end.

“I always want to try and get my rebounds,” Gasser said. “I’ve always been pretty good at that in my career. I knew I could bring that to our team.

“I was just trying to do whatever I could out there to help us.”

Of course, Gasser’s impressive debut did not come without its teaching points.

As impressive as the freshman point guard was on the offensive end, his defense left something to be desired at times, as noted by his head coach.

“He got a lesson about a guy hitting a three and then hitting another one and then hitting another one, and not making a guy move off a spot or make a guy put the ball on the floor,” Ryan said. “So we guarded the three much better. They got into a little rhythm there, but he got some help from his teammates. Plus, he recognized an earlier pick up.”

Smith impressive in first career start

He had just one point in 17 minutes of play, but Wquinton Smith showed what he could contribute to the Badgers if given regular playing time this season.

Smith grabbed five rebounds, all on the offensive end, while dishing out three assists and turning the ball over just once. He picked up just one personal foul in the game as well, while going 1-for-2 at the free throw line.

“His shot didn’t go down, but he did the other things,” Ryan said. “I thought defensively he chased on the screens pretty well, manned up on his guy, got on the glass, was opportunistic. He’s just hungry to contribute. You can’t go wrong with those kind of guys.”

Bruesewitz continues to impress offensively

When putting together a defensive gameplan for stopping the Badgers, the first goal has to be limiting Jon Leuer‘s effectiveness. After that, Taylor is the secondary focus.

As for Rob Wilson and Keaton Nankivil, opponents are familiar with their names as well. After his impressive debut, Gasser is sure to get plenty of attention as well.

But not many people are going to expect Mike Bruesewitz to knock down outside shots the way he did Sunday.

“Mike looked like J-Bo out there for a stretch from last year,” Taylor said, referring to graduated guard Jason Bohannon. “I don’t think he hit the rim.”

Bruesewitz went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc as he scored 11 points on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting from the floor. His one basket that did not come via the three ball was perhaps the most impressive.

After hitting a couple open shots from the outside, Bruesewitz shot faked and drove around a defender to the rim for the easy bucket. It’s just one of a few things the sophomore appears ready to bring to the UW offense this season.

“He read the defensive player, that’s in our shooting drills,” Ryan said before adding some humor about Bruesewitz’s much talked about new look. “But I think the biggest key in the offseason was he felt a few times last year that he was open and he wasn’t getting the ball. So he wanted to make sure he was seen better this year.

“You can’t miss the Brueser out there. You’re going to find him.”