Peaking at the Right Time

Pushing its winning streak to three games, senior Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson made sure to keep pushing the momentum forward on their senior day, scoring a combined 24 points to lead No.14 Wisconsin to a 70-56 victory over Illinois Sunday.

MADISON - If senior day is meant to showcase and honor the talents of that year's senior class, No.14 Wisconsin couldn't have done a more fitting job than the way it honored seniors Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson.

Actually, it was more along the lines of Taylor and Wilson wanting to close out their Kohl Center career and head into the post season playing their best.

Taylor scored eight of his 16 points and Wilson's six of his eight points in a dominant first half that set the tone for their 70-56 victory over Illinois in the regular season finale at the Kohl Center.

"It felt great," said Wilson. "To come out here and get a win will always put the icing on the cake on senior day."

Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten) got four players in double figures to finish the season on a three-game winning streak and closes Big Ten play alone in fourth place – extending their streak to 11 straight seasons under UW coach Bo Ryan.

The win improves Ryan's 11-year record at Wisconsin to 265-99, putting him in a tie for first place for most wins in school history with Bud Foster, who went 265-267 from 1935-59 and won the school's only national championship in 1941.

"He's a great teacher," said Taylor, who has won 70.2 percent of his games played under Ryan. "He does a great job of taking basketball points and relating them back to everyday life."

On Wisconsin's 14-2 run to open the game's first six minutes, Taylor and Wilson combined to score nine points and go 3-for-3 from 3-point range, but it was Wilson that drew some of the loudest cheers.

Following Taylor's three, Wilson hit a 3-pointer from each elbow in two of the next three possessions. On the possession he didn't score, Wilson tipped a rebound away from an Illinois defense to Ryan Evans (who extended his double-digit scoring run to 10 games following his 10 points), whose baseball pass to Josh Gasser resulted in an easy lay-up and a frustrated Illinois coach Bruce Weber calling timeout.

That set the tone for Wisconsin winning on senior day for the 11 straight time under Ryan.

"It's always kind of difficult with all the hoopla around it and emotions like that," said Taylor. "But at the end of the day you've got to go out and play basketball."

That's exactly what Wilson has been doing for Wisconsin over the last four games. Starting with his 11 points against Iowa, Wilson has scored 32 points in the last four games, the same amount he scored in the previous 15 games combined.

"He's been huge for us the last couple weeks," said Jared Berggren, who added 12 points and five rebounds. "He's come in and hit some big shots. He's been playing great defense and bringing a lot of energy off the bench. I think it makes us so much better as a team when guys like him are stepping in, really contributing and bringing a lot to our team."

Added Wilson: "Better late than never. I need to keep going with the mindset that I can help this team off the bench."

Even when Illinois (17-14, 6-12) tried to make things interesting in the second half, cutting the lead down to 10 with 11:20 to go, Wilson hit a jumper from the corner, sparking a 9-2 run that caused Weber to burn a full timeout after the lead swelled to 51-34.

Gasser hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key during the run and led Wisconsin – with Taylor - with 16 points and added a team-high eight rebounds (both numbers matching his season high). More importantly, he showed fans a glimpse of what's to come when he takes command of the point guard position next season.

"We always have to play hard against a team like that," said Gasser. "We knew we had to keep a foot on the pedal and keep going with it and that started on the defensive end."

Sunday was a mirror opposite from the team's first meeting in Champaign. In that outing, Illinois shot 43.6 percent from the floor and had five players with at least nine points in a narrow four-point loss. After shooting 39.6 percent and having two player in double figures, Illinois has lost 9 of 11 since its Jan.22 meeting Jan.22 against Wisconsin and Weber appears to be a couple weeks away from losing his job after nine seasons.

"We've been through a really tough stretch in our season and our lives for the kids and for our coaches," said Weber, as his team has one offensive rebound and a 1-to-7 assist-to-turnover ratio. "But you can't do anything but go play basketball. Play with a passion, if you love the game. And that's the disappointing thing to me. We played very tentative to start the game and we spotted them 14-2 and that pretty much was the game."

Even during their freefall, the Illini had relied on the production of Brandon Paul, Meyers Leonard and D.J. Richardson to try and keep them competitive. The trio entered the game averaging a combined 40.3 points per game and scored 39 points earlier this season against Wisconsin.

They combined to make just 3 of 15 shots for eight points in the half and while Paul scored 17 of his game-high 22 in the second half, Leonard and Richardson shot just 5 of 15 and 13 points.

"We just have to let loose and play free," said Leonard (eight points). "We have a lot of talent, but I feel like there is one little thing that's missing. If we can find a way to find that, search it and really exploit it, I think we can find surprise some people. Obviously it's coming down to our last chance here."

The same could be said for Taylor and Wilson, which is why they don't have their sights set any lower than winning the school's first Big Ten Tournament championship since 2008.

"We're going down there expecting to win," said Taylor. "We'll take it 40 minutes at a time, game by game and see what happens."

UW will face an opponent to be determined in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals at approximately 1:45 p.m. CT Friday.

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