Back in the Conference Swing

Winning on the road in a year where the Big Ten is all but unpredictable? No problem for the University of Wisconsin, especially when senior guard Jordan Taylor has ice water running through his veins. Scoring seven of his game-high 19 points in the final 32.1 seconds, the Badgers scratch off another road victory, this one a 67-63 decision over Illinois.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Maybe Wisconsin should consider busing to road venues more often.

After all, in a year where everything in the Big Ten is unexplainable, consider Wisconsin having latched on to two things that are working for them: playing well on the road and moving to 5-0 when coming off a bus.

The number of key components to digest following Wisconsin's gritty 67-63 victory over No.22 Illinois Sunday afternoon at Assembly Hall, spoiling Illinois' first sellout of the season, will make any Badgers' fan opinion change drastically from where it was two weeks ago.

After struggling to put the ball in the basket for what seemed like an eternity, Wisconsin has shot 46 percent or better in three of the last four second halves to close out opponents.

After failing to beat a ranked team on the road since beating No.23 Michigan on Dec. 31, 2008, Wisconsin has won at Purdue and Illinois in the same season for the first time since 1918.

More importantly, Wisconsin shook off three straight losses to be a half game out of first place in the Big Ten just two weeks after getting blown out at Michigan that many thought sunk Wisconsin out of the conference race.

"It's a crazy league," said Jared Berggren (18 points). "It was definitely disappointing when we lost three in a row. We got down a little bit, but we tried to stay positive, stay together and keep in mind that it's a long season and everybody is going to take some bumps.

"We were able to fight and scratch our way into things."

With Jordan Taylor leading the charge, it appears nothing is ever too much for Wisconsin (16-5, 5-3 Big Ten) to overcome. Limited to only five points in the first half, Taylor scored 12 of his points after halftime and seven in the final 32.1 seconds, including a free-throw line jumper to make the score 62-57 and five straight free throws to ice the game.

"I just try to run stuff that we run every day in practice and when the opportunity presents itself, I just try to knock shots down," said Taylor. "I still am not shooting the greatest percentage, but I'll take a win over that every day."

It was a stark change from the first half when Taylor went 2-for-6 from the field and 0-for-3 from the free throw line, Wisconsin went 2-for-9 from the free throw line and turned the ball over eight times, but stuck with the theme of the Badgers making their free throws late. In the last five minutes of conference games, Wisconsin is shooting 78 percent (32-of-41) from the free throw.

"It's what we expect him to do game in and game out," said Berggren of Taylor's play down the stretch. "That's what he's done for us. He's as clutch as they come down the stretch, knocking down free throws when it really matters, hitting big shots when it really matters."

In a game that featured 11 times and eight lead changes, it was a decisive five-minute stretch in the second half that gave the Badgers the lead for good.

Down 50-46 after a jumper by Meyers Leonard (team-high 16 points), Wisconsin rattled off a 12-3 run that Taylor started with a jumper, but saw production from Berggren, Ben Brust (9 points) and a big three-pointer from the top of the key from Mike Bruesewitz (5 points)

Still, no play seemed to give Wisconsin a bigger lift that the one that occurred with just over seven minutes remaining. Up 51-50, a loose ball on the floor was deflected by Josh Gasser, secured by Bruesewitz, who made a pass to Brust from his knees. As Brust went in for the lay-up, Taylor stepped in front of Illinois junior Brandon Paul, cutting out Paul's alley to Brust and allowing the easy lay-up.

Illinois cut the lead to one only once more the remainder of the game.

"That was one of the biggest plays of the game," said Brust. "Every play is important, but that really set the tone and really got us fired up."

Illinois coach Bruce Weber was solemn after the game that his team was simply beaten on all the hustle plays on its home floor, resulting in the Illini (15-5, 4-3) losing their 14-game home winning streak. Not only did Wisconsin outrebound Illinois, 33-31, the Badgers scored more second-chance points (10-4), more points off turnovers (10-7), more points in the paint (24-22) and dominated the bench production, 14-0.

"We have to do those things in order to be successful," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "We don't strike fear in a whole lot of hearts when we show up on the court … Hustle opportunities are things every team should be trying to get and every team should play off. That's the way the game should be played. To me, it's an absolute. Second-best effort doesn't net positive results."

Attention to detail also helped the Badgers defensively against Illinois junior Brandon Paul. Twelve days removed from scoring 48 points in a five-point upset over No.5 Ohio State, Paul was hounded by Ryan Evans and Gasser, resulting in him shooting 3-for-11 from the floor for only 10 points.

"He was a big emphasis coming into the game," said Gasser. "Anytime you can take probably their best perimeter scorer and hold him to that, it's just going to give us a better chance to win. I think we frustrated him a little bit. He didn't take shots like he did against Ohio State … We took him off his rhythm so he couldn't knock those down."

Four turnovers in the first 2:04 and starting 1-for-5 didn't help matters for Wisconsin, but the Badgers' defense opened some opportunities. Other than Tracy Abrams hitting two of his first three shots, Illinois started 2-for-11, allowing Wisconsin to go on an 11-2 run that was highlighted by three-pointers from Gasser and Rob Wilson.

But much like Wisconsin's first half against Northwestern, when Bruesewitz picked up for Taylor's 1-for-5 shooting with 12 points for a two-point halftime lead, Berggren carried the torch to help forge a 26-26 tie at halftime.

Entering the day averaging 7.0 points, on 31.7 percent shooting, in league games, Berggren scored a team-high 10 points when no other player had over five, and his 4-for-9 shooting helped Wisconsin in a half where everyone other than him shot 37.5 percent.

He also scored five points in the last 4:19, including one off his own miss and offensive rebound, and added a key block on D.J. Richardson that set up Taylor's jumper.

"I was able to get some open looks early on and knock a few down," said Berggren, who finished 7 of 14 overall and 3 of 6 from three-point range. "I just kind of got rolling from there."

As a result, Wisconsin might be logging a few more miles on the odometer.

"We're thinking about busing to Ohio State and Penn State now," said Gasser. "It's been working."

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