Lacking a Finishing Touch

Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan has his team focused forward on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and not on the results of the past six games. But when one of your key pupils compares the beginning of this season to two years ago, it's obvious the upperclassmen are cognizant that a complete performance is needed in earnest.

MADISON - Call 2008 the dark season of the Bo Ryan era, the year few people care to mention and that many people willfully overlook. So when Jordan Taylor drew parallels between his freshman year and six games into his junior year, one can understand the cringe effect that undoubtedly followed.

The cliff-noted version of '08 saw Wisconsin somehow sneak into the NCAA Tournament field after losing six straight games for the first time since 1998 and Ryan's first time since his first season at UW-Platteville in 1984-85.

The theme that season was a failure to finish. Wisconsin was 17-8 that season when leading or tied at the four-minute mark of regulation, including 9-6 in Big Ten play, causing the returning seniors to take ownership and direct the focus on playing a 40-minute game.

So one year after the Badgers boasted a perfect 22-0 record when leading or tied with 4:00 remaining in regulation, including a 12-0 mark in Big Ten play, Taylor is ready to see that killer instinct come back.

"We have to close games better, simply as that," Taylor said. "Obviously throughout the course of any game, you are going to do good and bad things. No matter what, we have to close games better.

In Las Vegas, the Badgers (4-2) had the ball for 51 of the final 55.9 seconds and training by one, but couldn't secure the win, as Taylor and Jon Leuer each missed a jumper and Mike Bruesewitz made a costly turnover on an inbounds pass.

On Sunday in the championship of the Old Spice Classic, Wisconsin had an 11-point second-half lead, causing Taylor to salute the fans in attendance and chest bump several teammates all the way to the bench during a timeout. He had no answer for when Notre Dame scored 15 straight points in the final four minutes to pull away.

Even the Boston College game was a concern, as the Eagles, once trailing 60-38, scored the next 15 points to make a game of it in the final minute.

"Two years ago, we had a similar problem and a lot of the guys were on that team," Taylor said. "It's simple as we need to focus and not let up off the gas pedal … It's more disappointing than anything, because we feel we have the tools to close things out."

Part of the early-season problem is the un-Wisconsin disparity in three point and free throws attempts. Through six games, Wisconsin has attempted eight more three-pointers than opponents (39-of-122) but opponents are making a better percentage (35.1 percent to 32.0 percent for UW).

After its 73.2 free-throw percentage (416-of-568) led the Big Ten and ranked 37th in the NCAA and making more free throws than an opponent attempted on eight separate occasions, the Badgers have attempted just five more free throws than their opponents.

Part of it, according to Leuer, was the amount of zone the Badgers saw in Orlando, which could explain why Wisconsin only shot four free throws compared to 25 for the Irish. Still, there's the matter of not hitting the shots, as the Badgers shot 39 percent in the three tournament games.

"We were getting good looks," Leuer said. "Obviously, we want to get to the free throw line more. That's the easiest place to score. At the same time, if you're getting open threes and open jump shots, you've got to knock them down."

Just as important as finishing a game, Leuer recognizes that the final 20 minutes are just as important as the first 20, another area of inconsistency for Wisconsin.

Against Manhattan, Wisconsin made 7 of 30 shots, including 1 of 13 from 3-point range, in the opening 20 minutes, leading 17-10. They marginally approved a day later, scoring 26 points in the opening half vs. Boston College, but made just 1 of 10 from 3-point range during the opening 20 minutes.

Throw in their 31.8 percent shooting percent and 19-point first-half points against Notre Dame, it was a tournament to forget for the Badgers.

"There were stretches where we were really good and had some stretches where we missed some shots and had some turnovers," Leuer said. "It's about putting a full 40 minutes together for us and when we do that, this team has the full potential.

"We got shots that we wanted. We just didn't knock them down."

Even with two senior post players and a junior point guard Jordan Taylor returning to the starting lineup, there are still growing pains. The Badgers are trying to find consistent replacements for senior guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes; have been without the services of junior Rob Wilson for most of the season due to a hamstring problem and are trying to integrate sophomores Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz and freshman Josh Gasser to meaningful minutes.

"Last year, we were closing games out, but it was different guys taking the shots down the stretch," said Taylor, referring to Bohannon and Hughes. "That being said, Jon took big shots last year, I've taken a few before, it's nothing knew and that's part of the reason we love playing basketball … That's something we haven't done down the stretch."

The learning lessons begin Wednesday, when the Badgers play their first home game in 14 days against N.C. State as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The Badgers have won their last five games in the annual event and have the second-best winning percentage among conference teams (5-6, .455).

The Wolfpack (4-1) are the complete opposite of the Duke team UW beat in the challenge last season in terms of experience, as three of their top four scorers are freshmen, but not in terms of talent, as all three were five-star recruits in the 2011 recruiting class by Scout.com.

That's one of the many reasons UW is looking forward to playing its first of many 40-minute complete games.

"We're not in panic mode or anything like that," Leuer said. "We're just focusing on our next opponent and we're going to keep getting better each day from this point forward. This team has a lot of potential. It's just a matter of getting everything hitting on all cylinders."


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