Tucker finding his rhythm

After a full week of practice, sophomore forward is recovering his timing

CHAMPAIGN, Ill.—The bounce in Alando Tucker's step has been smoother this week. The pain is gone from his recently injured right foot. He is back at practice, consistently working with his University of Wisconsin men's basketball teammates for the first time in a month.

What remains for Tucker, the Badgers' leading scorer and rebounder, is rekindling his sense of timing and rebuilding his endurance. Taking part in limited practices for more than three weeks has made Tucker more likely to feel fatigue and less likely to attack the basket with authority.

"It's coming back," Tucker said. "Every day I'm getting more comfortable and I can feel I'm getting more comfortable in my shot and more comfortable with making reads and passing the ball. Everything is starting to add up. I'm starting to get a little more relaxed out there on the court."

The 20th ranked Badgers (7-3 Big Ten, 16-5 overall) will need a strong performance from Tucker if they hope to upend No. 1 Illinois (10-0, 24-0) here Saturday.

"Physically everything, I'm fine right now," said Tucker, who is averaging 14.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. "Everything else is just endurance and different things like that I have to build up."

The improvement in the 6-foot-5 sophomore forward's health was abundantly clear in Wisconsin's 72-69 win over visiting Iowa Wednesday. With the game tied 61-61 with less than 2:30 left to play, Tucker gave UW the lead for good, making an aggressive move to the paint and converting a three-point play after drawing a foul as he elevated for a short jumper.

"Mainly it is just getting on the practice floor," Tucker said. "When you sit out a couple practices, it takes time to build it back up."

In the five games prior to injuring his right foot in practice Jan. 9, Tucker had averaged 18.8 points and 8.6 rebounds, having scored more than 20 points in four of those contests.

He missed Wisconsin's win over Ohio State two days after the injury and took part in only modified practices for the following two weeks. During that time, however, he played through the injury in wins over Michigan State and Michigan and in a home loss to Illinois.

Tucker averaged 9.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 25 minutes in those games. After contributing 16 points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Illini, however, he did not practice at all for the better part of a week and missed wins at Penn State Jan. 29 and at home versus Northwestern Feb. 2.

"It is always frustrating," Tucker said of the injury. "Sometimes you might actually get out there and once you feel a little pain you might try to not go so much, you lean toward that side or just different things that mentally you probably lay off. You might do things different as opposed to feeling just all the way healthy."

Tucker practiced in full for the first time since the injury Feb. 4, then struggled through a 10-point, six-rebound performance in UW's loss at Minnesota a day later. He has not missed a beat in practice this week, the results of which were evident in the Iowa game.

"I've been actually out on the court now, you know, practicing," Tucker said. "I had a chance to practice with the team and go full out. It just builds back up and so there is no question with that either."

Of the three games he played hurt, Tucker's performance against the Illini was clearly his best. He scored all 16 of his points in that game in the second half, making 7 of 8 shots after halftime, including 2 of 3 three-pointers.

"Coming back and not practicing as much with the team, I was still trying to get a feel for everybody," Tucker said. "So, I think once I actually got more comfortable with the matchups and being out there with the group of guys that I was out there with, I just settled down and relaxed and just played normal basketball that I'm used to playing.

"That's the main thing, though. I just had to relax. I hadn't practiced in a while so I had to get back out on the court and just get into a rhythm, kind of a feel back for where I was at."

Tucker is practicing again and he is well on his way to finding his rhythm. That drumbeat is music to the Badgers' ears.

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