In early situations throughout the season (at Las Vegas, at East Lansing, at State College), that toughness shown in past years by the University of Wisconsin has been strikingly absent, resulting in late turnovers and late collapses.
So when the toughness kept getting put into question Wednesday at Iowa, two Badgers guards at the opposite end of the experience spectrum made sure those questions were put to rest.
"Both (Josh and Jordan) showed what this team needs to be about in terms of toughness and do things that don't show up in the box score or the headline," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "It epitomizes what the team win was all about – real gutty, wasn't pretty, just had to battle, scrap and claw to get things done."
Junior guard Jordan Taylor looked physically and emotionally exhausted after he scored 16 points during the Badgers' 62-59 overtime win over Iowa, a game in which the Badgers shot 18.2 percent in the first half, 35.3 percent for the game and trailed by as many as seven in the second half.
Taylor made only 6 of 18 shots, but made the game-tying shot to send it into overtime and then scored four points in overtime, the last of which coming after getting undercut and taking a hard fall.
"I was a little tired, but who isn't after a game like that?" Taylor questioned. "Our guys are tired. Those guys are tired. It's part of the game to leave your sweat and blood out there and give it all you got."
Taylor was held out of practice by team trainers and doctors Thursday for a prescribed rest, but said he'll be ready to go when the Badgers host No.1 Ohio State Saturday.
"I like practicing to be honest," Taylor said with a laugh. "It is what it is. I'll be ready to go."
Gasser only scored two points, but had four assists to zero turnovers and seven rebounds, none of which was bigger than the one he grabbed in the final seconds of overtime. After a Taylor miss, Gasser dove across the paint to the right lane line to land on the ball and get UW a timeout.
"Josh made the play of the game," Gard said. "It was like a fumble in an NFL game, everybody was piling on underneath the pile for awhile."
That rebound allowed Taylor to get back to the line and make 1 of 2 free throws, enough of a cushion to escape Iowa City.
"It was the biggest play of the game," Taylor said. "That toughness that he brings helped us win the game."
More than a Third Scorer
There's been little debate on who runs the show for the Badgers. Taylor and Leuer, who on Friday was named one of 30 players on the midseason list for the Naismith Trophy, as the duo combine for 37.1 points per game, but there has been much debate on who will emerge as Wisconsin's third-scoring option.
Nankivil will be the natural option, ranking third on the team in scoring (9.6 ppg) and leading the team with a 49.4 3-point percentage. Still, other options have emerged, like freshman Josh Gasser (first triple-double in school history, four double-digit games), sophomore Ryan Evans (three double-digit games), and senior Tim Jarmusz (timely 3-point buckets) have also stepped up to the plate.
According to Gard, it's not so much of identifying a third scorer as finding balanced production that's important.
"A lot of it is on match-ups and how we are defended," Gard said. "Iowa was hugging Keaton pretty tight and trying to not let him have any room. We were able to get him some room later as things loosen up a little bit. We don't go into any game saying you have to score this or take x-number of shots. It's all going to come within the flow of the game.
"Some nights guys are going to be left open more than others. I think as we go through the league the second time, we'll see things defended a little differently. You just have to read and make decision and make plays."
After Bo Ryan tried to blame his shot attempt in the second half Wednesday on the wind, the UW coach said it was haircut time for Bruesewitz. The sophomore forward heard the playful criticism, but rest assured that everyone's favorite red afro is staying around … for now.
"I heard it, but I don't have a haircut appointment," Bruesewitz said.