A Balancing Act

Many people wonder why senior first-team All-Big Ten selection Jordan Taylor hasn't scored as much in spurts as he did last season. Crunching the numbers heading into the conference tournament, the Badgers, who have moved on from their fourth place conference finish, are almost better when he doesn't.

MADISON - When conference player of the year Draymond Green missed a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer Sunday, a chain of dominoes fell throughout the Big Ten.

First, Michigan State blew its opportunity, and a 15-point lead, to win the outright regular season championship. Second, Ohio State's 72-70 victory at East Lansing avenged an embarrassing loss in mid-February and won the Buckeyes a share of their third straight conference championship - and fifth in seven years. Third, it allowed Michigan to win a share of its first conference championship since 1986.

Lastly, it meant No.14 Wisconsin finished one game behind the pack.

"It's really easy to say to look back on one or two games to say we could have had that game," said sophomore Josh Gasser.

There are plenty of things Wisconsin (23-8, 12-6 Big Ten) can point to as to why it fell short of winning a piece of its first conference title since 2008. There was the three home losses in conference play since 1999-2000, there was the late home game struggles against the Buckeyes and Spartans and, the most damaging, getting swept by Iowa for the first time in the regular season since 1994-95.

But while some fans will look at the glass half empty, UW coach Bo Ryan said convincingly that if Wisconsin didn't steal its victories at Purdue or Illinois or Minnesota in overtime that the Badgers would have finished in seventh or eighth place.

"I like my guys," said Ryan. "I like what they did this year. How hard they've worked on defense and what they've accomplished, this group is pretty good given what they've had in the turn around. Anybody that doesn't know that doesn't know basketball. Trust me."

So when Wisconsin takes the floor Friday for their opening game in the Big Ten Tournament, don't expect the Badgers to be wallowing in self pity, especially when they have developed some serious momentum.

Winning four of five, Wisconsin takes a 6-3 conference road record to Indianapolis and its three-game winning streak is the second longest active streak in the league behind Indiana (four).

"Anytime you can go into a tournament with three straight wins, I guess we are on a little bit of a roll right now, it definitely is a confidence boost," said first-team All-Big Ten senior guard Jordan Taylor. "We're going down there expecting to win the whole thing. It's just taking it 40 minutes at a time, game by game, and we'll see what happens."

Wisconsin's 70-56 victory over Illinois Sunday gave the Badgers at least 12 Big Ten wins for the ninth times in program history, seven of which have come in Ryan's 11 seasons, and showed how the Badgers can be successful. Wisconsin had four starters in double figures and got eight points off the bench from a resurgent Rob Wilson.

More importantly, Wisconsin's scoring had balance with two players scoring 16 points, one having 12 and the other having 10.

"I am pretty sure games like that all year have been our most high scoring games," said Taylor, "probably our most efficient on offense."

He's right. In games this season where Wisconsin has at least four players in double figures, the Badgers are 8-3 (losing twice to Iowa and Ohio State), averaging 61.4 points per game (including their season-high 85-point performance against Kennesaw State) and winning by 13.3 points per game.

"I am pretty sure we've probably had some of our less efficient games when I am up there in the 20s," added Taylor.

Again, Taylor is on to something. Scoring 20 of more points three times this season, the Badgers are 2-1, but only scored 50 points in regulation at home against Michigan State, scored only 51 points in regulation and shot 28 percent in the second half against Minnesota and scored only 16 points and shot 19 percent at home against Minnesota.

"We're in the business to try and get wins," said Taylor. "That's really all that matters."

The shooting hasn't been pretty at times, but the Badgers have won a lot of their games because of their defense. Allowing opponents an NCAA-best 51.8 points per game, Illinois scored 18 points in the first half, a season low, and shot 39.6 percent overall (21 of 52), 23.5 percent from 3-point range (4 of 17) and had just three assists and 10 turnovers.

"There's no doubt it's their system, their style and their kids," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Josh Gasser (and Mike) Bruesewitz, they don't care if they score a point. They just want Wisconsin to win.

"I think even (Ryan) Evans, they play with a passion for Wisconsin. They play hard, they buy into the system and they win games. That's what it is. And it helps to have Jordan Taylor, obviously."

UW also leads the nation in 3-point field goal defense (27.8 percent), ranks third in field goal defense (37.6 percent) and is second in defensive points per possession (0.87). As we saw in last Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, however, holding a team to 36 points is useless when your offense can only score 33.

But over the last month, the scoring weight has been taken off Taylor. Evans has scored at least 10 points in the 10 straight games, Wilson has scored almost as many points in his last four games (32) as he did in his previous 15 (33), Jared Berggren dropped 18 points in a win at Ohio State on Feb.26 and Gasser has scored 14 or more points three times in his last five games.

For a group of competitors with a chip on their shoulder, it's the perfect recipe for a tournament run.

"Everyone could have had one or two more wins, but it doesn't work out like that," said Gasser. "It makes you a little angry, and that gives you a chip on your shoulder heading into the Big Ten Tournament that we belong among those top couple teams in the conference. If we take care of our own business, that should happen."

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