Finding Common Ground

Wisconsin came into the season pointing to senior Jordan Taylor to lead the charge. While that still holds true, the Badgers have won three straight heading into this afternoon matchup against Illinois because UW hasn't relied solely on its All American.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – There's no ‘I' in ‘Team,' but there is one in Wisconsin. Two of them in fact, and the Badgers looked exactly like a group reliant on a one-man show at the start of Big Ten conference play.

They knew it and, worse yet, knew that their opponents knew it, too, which is exactly why UW needed to change it.

"We understand that Jordan Taylor is a great player and sometimes when he had that look in his eye, we get away and let him do his thing," said junior Mike Bruesewitz. "One example is last year at Indiana when he had 39 points. He has the ability to do whatever he wants defensively, but we have to be ready to step up when we are needed."

Coming off an All-American junior season where he finished fourth in the Big Ten in scoring with 18.1 points per game, including 20.1 points per game in Big Ten play, many expected Taylor to carry the scoring load for Wisconsin. He was one of only two seniors, was confident and showed last season that he could take over a game at a moment's notice.

The one thing he couldn't do was do everything, including playing in the post.

During Wisconsin's three-game losing streak that dropped the Badgers to 1-3 in the Big Ten for the first time under coach Bo Ryan, Taylor either took the most shots or scored the most points without much balance around him.

"We want balanced scoring and we've had that in the past, but we all know Jordan is going to have the ball and create," said sophomore Josh Gasser. "We want that, but we have to have guys moving away from the ball, setting screens for each other, crashing the offensive glass and getting ourselves open because he's good at that.

"We don't help him out when our shooting percentage is so bad and we get away from our defensive fundamentals, allowing easy buckets. Doing those kinds of things will cost you."

Against Iowa, Taylor scored 17 points and was one of four Badgers in double figures, but he needed 19 shots to get to that total. Against Michigan State and Michigan, Taylor led the team with 28 and 12 points, respectively, but none of his teammates scored in double figures.

The problems against Iowa was Wisconsin wasn't touching the post enough per possession. Against Michigan State, it was taking lower percentage shots. Against Michigan, it was everything combined.

"We needed guys to make good decision, take good shots and put the ball in the basket," associate head coach Greg Gard said. "It's pretty simple. We wanted to make it simplistic as possible and when we broke down the tape, that's exactly what it came down to. Guys had shots but we took a lot of poor shots by either forcing things and off balanced shots. The shots we made, we were ready for (the pass) and square to the basket.

"It's not gymnastics. You don't get style points. If we don't feel comfortable, we got to kick the ball out and finish stronger at the rim."

After losing post players Tim Jarmusz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil off last year's team, the play in the post has been consistently inconsistent.

Scoring a career-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting at Nebraska, Ryan Evans shot 29.6 percent on UW's three game skid, including a 3-of-15 mark against the Spartans, before getting back on track with a 17-point performance against Northwestern Wednesday.

Despite his increased minutes, Bruesewitz was averaging only 6.0 points and 5.1 shots per game prior to the Purdue game, choosing to pass instead of shoot, while Jared Berggren struggled to find his shot, shooting 11-for-36 (30.6) percent from the floor and 1-for-12 (8.3 percent) from three-point range.

While Berggren's shooting struggles continue (he did, however, grab 13 rebounds against Nebraska), Bruesewitz has scored in double figures twice in the last three games.

"You take those shots back and make those higher quality, you're odds of making the shot increase," said Gard. "It just comes from simplifying things. We don't want to take as many, what we call, ‘Oooahh shots,' where you have a chiropractor when you are done because you are contorted in eight different ways. We've gotten better at throwing the ball inside and trying to make something happen inside."

As a result, Wisconsin (15-5, 4-3 Big Ten) is on a three-game winning streak heading into this afternoon's matchup at Illinois (15-4, 4-2), one of the four teams tied for first place in the conference loss column. Went Taylor went scoreless in the first half at Purdue, the Badgers got big shots from Bruesewitz, Ben Brust and others to lead by 12 at halftime. Wisconsin ended with five players in double figures in a five-point win.

In the 20-point win over Northwestern, the Badgers had four players in double figures and six players shoot above 50 percent. More importantly, Wisconsin started attacking the rim.

After attempting just 9.1 free throws over the first seven games, the Badgers are shooting 19.8 free throws over the last 13 games. During UW's three-game winning streak the Badgers have averaged 16.3 made free throws on 20.7 attempts. Wisconsin made its final eight free throws in the last 28 seconds against Purdue, then went 7-for-8 at the charity stripe in the final 1:20 against Nebraska.

During the final five minutes of Big Ten games, the Badgers are shooting 77.1 percent (27-of-35) at the line … and it's a result of balanced production.

"We are finishing plays inside, knocking down some threes and making teams pay for sending extra guys to the ball at the rim," said Gard. "It's a balance, but the biggest thing is simplifying the game, which we have done the last three times on the floor."

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