While junior forward Jon Leuer sat on the sidelines and nursed his broken left wrist back to health, short-handed Wisconsin adjusted instantly and managed to piece together a 6-3 record that included a dominant home win over No. 5 Michigan State and a 3-point loss at No. 10 Purdue where the Badgers had a chance to win on the last shot.
Leuer returned to action last week, but the 6-foot-10 force's return didn't exactly propel Wisconsin back into the stratosphere. The Badgers took a 16-point licking at Minnesota in his re-debut, then struggled to put away Northwestern on Sunday in a 70-63 win that was closer than the score indicated.
Leuer didn't start in either game, but he played a total of 48 minutes and looked like a guy who hadn't played in awhile. He hit just 2 of 12 field-goal tries at Minnesota, then missed 3 of 4 free throws in the final 2:12 against Northwestern that helped speed the Wildcats' comeback. On the other hand, Leuer showed some nice defensive timing with three blocks against the Wildcats. That included a crucial help-side swatting of Michael Thompson's layup with 12 seconds left that would've pulled NU within one point.
"The block was just trying to make up for all the free throws I missed," Leuer said. "I don't know what I was thinking there. I just felt I had to make a play. I'm feeling pretty good as far as my second game back, but I still I have a long ways to go. Every day, I'm just trying to get better and get in more of a rhythm with this team."
When Leuer broke his wrist on Jan. 9 against Purdue, he ranked second on the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.2) and looked like a strong candidate for first-team all-Big Ten honors. Those likely are out the window after missing half of the league schedule, but Leuer, who posted a total of 15 points and five rebounds in his first two games back, has time to ease his way back into the team. Starting with Thursday's trip to Indiana, Wisconsin has just three games before its Big Ten tournament quarterfinal on March 12.
--After missing nine games with a broken left wrist, junior forward Jon Leuer returned to action for Wisconsin's 68-52 loss on Feb. 18 at Minnesota. Leuer didn't start against either Minnesota or Northwestern, but he played a total of 48 minutes with his wrist wrapped tightly and produced 15 points with 5 rebounds. He hit 5 of 17 shots from the field and 5 of 8 from the line.
--With Sunday's 70-63 win over Northwestern, Wisconsin earned its seventh 20-win season during Bo Ryan's nine years in Madison. Why has this team hit the 20-win mark when it was predicted to finish in the bottom third of the Big Ten standings? Defense and discipline have plenty to do with it. The Badgers lead the nation with just 9.0 turnovers per game -- an achievement that's also in line to set a single-season school record. The Badgers also rank among the nation's top five teams in points allowed (57.1 per game).
ON THE SPOT: As Wisconsin heads into the home stretch of the regular season, some of its better opponents are discovering ways to ding the Badgers' helping man-to-man defense. Illinois abused it with high ball screens that led to pick-and-pops. Northwestern isolated certain defenders (in particular Tim Jarmusz) and beat them off the dribble to get to the hoop. Minnesota also attacked the paint successfully. It's all about adjustments at this time of the year -- and the Badgers need to stay one step ahead.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There is the experience we get back on the floor in those situations and that's why he was out there. Plus, even with that tape on his (left) hand, his hands in the post are the best of all our bigs." -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan explaining after Sunday's win over Northwestern why junior forward Jon Leuer is so valuable to the Badgers on both ends of the floor.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Wisconsin all but assured a first-round Big Ten tournament bye with its 70-63 win Sunday against Northwestern. The Badgers would need to lose their three remaining regular-season games and Minnesota would need to win three of its last four in order to take away the bye. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is a cinch for the NCAA Tournament as it owns wins over Duke, Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Maryland and Marquette.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Keaton Nankivil, F Tim Jarmusz, G Jordan Taylor, G Trevon Hughes, G Jason Bohannon. Key Subs -- F Jon Leuer, F Ryan Evans, G Rob Wilson.
Wisconsin 83, Indiana 55
Minnesota 68, Wisconsin 52
Wisconsin 70, Northwestern 63
at Indiana, Thursday, Feb. 25
vs. Iowa, Wednesday, March 3
at Illinois, Saturday, March 6 or Sunday, March 7
Big Ten tournament at Indianapolis, March 11-14
IN FOCUS: Wisconsin trails Big Ten leader Purdue by two games in the loss column, so there's not a good chance the Badgers can sneak a piece of their fourth Big Ten title in nine years under Bo Ryan. However, there's still a good chance to claim a top-four NCAA Tournament seed and a sweep of the three Is should assure that. The Badgers already pounded Indiana 83-55 on Feb. 13 while they haven't faced Iowa.
--Junior PF Jon Leuer returned after missing nine games with a broken left wrist. The 6-foot-10 Leuer hasn't returned to the starting lineup yet, but he's playing close to starter's minutes. Junior Keaton Nankivil, who played well during Leuer's absence, and Tim Jarmusz are the ones losing minutes upon his return.
--Sophomore PG Jordan Taylor entered Sunday's game against Northwestern leading the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.36 to 1), but he committed a season-high 4 turnovers in the 70-63 win over the Wildcats. Taylor also handed out 4 assists, so he's at 98 assists and 32 turnovers for the season. Taylor has averaged 11.0 points and 4.3 assists per game since joining the starting lineup on Jan. 13 after Jon Leuer broke his wrist.
--Senior guard Jason Bohannon remains on one of the hottest streaks of his career. Over his last six games, Bohannon has averaged 19.5 points per game while shooting 60.3 percent from the field and 52.2 percent from 3-point range.
Next Up: Hoosiers Get Another Crack at UW
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