Tucker states his case

The Badger forward put on a show Wednesday, completely overshadowing another Big Ten Player of the Year candidate

MADISON—The talk all week concerning the incoming Hoosiers of Indiana circled around their interior—namely forward Marco Killingsworth. How would Wisconsin stop the Big Ten player of the year candidate and end its losing streak?

Well, for starters it helps when you have another leading applicant for that title on your own side. So when the Big Ten in-conference scoring leader Alando Tucker was asked about Killingsworth on Monday, he acknowledged both the talent and the importance of the IU star.

Yet, in a way Tucker did leave the floor open for debate. When asked if Killingsworth was the best big man in the conference, Tucker said, "He's definitely one of the best." Then he revised his statement by adding, "True big men? Definitely."

After all, the slashing, cutting Alando Tucker—the same guy who brought the ball up the court in the absence of Kammron Taylor one minute Wednesday night and then the next was banging down low without the luxury of Brian Butch, Jason Chappell or Greg Steimsma by his side—well, he might not be your "true big man."

Whatever he is, Tucker put on another show on Wednesday night by scoring 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting and adding six rebounds in a 72-54 Wisconsin win in which he played 38 of 40 minutes.

"Tucker I think is by far one of the top two players in the league—he and Dee Brown for sure," said a sullen Indiana coach Mike Davis following the game. "He was the guy. There was the end of the first half when he carried them, and the second half he did a great job."

Davis referred to the spurt at the end of the first half during which Tucker turned things up several notches. In recent losses the Badgers struggled to respond to first-half runs by their opponents and knew they would need to do so after a 10-0 Indiana run cut their once sizable advantage to just four points with 6:29 left in the half.

Then came that stretch—that segment.

"Every four minutes before a media timeout we have to be aggressive," Tucker said. ‘We have to try to win those four minutes. That's one of the things we try to approach the game with now is not so much thinking of the whole game, we try to break it down to minutes.

"Every four minutes—that stretch, that segment—we try to win."

And so in the last 4:06 Tucker decided to take it upon his own shoulders to see that the Badgers responded with authority before halftime. He scored eight points, hauled in three rebounds and blocked a shot as Wisconsin headed into the locker room riding a wave of confidence and owning a nine-point advantage.

When Davis elected to put a five-guard lineup out on the floor for the final two minutes of the half, Tucker chewed them apart. He went straight at the Hoosiers on three straight possessions, scoring on all of them to quickly alter the state of the game.

In fact, following halftime Tucker did more of the same, hitting a 3-pointer that gave Wisconsin a lead that would never fall into single digits. Over a span of 6:17 Tucker scored 15 of 17 Badger points on 6 of 7 shooting.

"I was just being aggressive," Tucker said. "I was seeing that they were opening lanes and by guys knocking down shots it creates a gap for me to be able to create for myself."

Indiana likes to move the basketball into Killingsworth for a large number of touches in which he can work the block or kick out to a number of deadly Hoosier 3-point shooters. A couple of passes early on made evident just how adept Killingsworth has become at finding open men around the perimeter.

However, the shots did not fall early or often for Indiana. Then Killingsworth found himself in foul trouble. When he missed a pair of close-range shots in the opening possessions of the second half and picked up yet another foul, the frustration had simply built too high.

Tucker, however, was able to do all those things which have made Killingsworth so well-respected, only he was able to do them better, for twice as many minutes and with the added talent of mobility along the baseline.

"Yeah, that's what he does," senior guard Ray Nixon said. "He can give us so much. He attacks gaps very well. He's a beast in the post, and that allows for our floor guys to get open shots when he does that and people start to double team and triple team him."

On Wednesday Tucker was able to break down that guard-heavy Indiana lineup inside and then kick it back out as the Hoosiers were forced to help. Everything seems to work a lot better when shots are falling, and a couple early hits from outside allowed Tucker to establish better position before IU cheated towards him and created a step for UW shooters to get open on the perimeter—mainly Nixon.

When it comes to MVPs, perhaps no player in the conference is more valuable to his team than Tucker. Only Vedran Vukusic of Northwestern supplies his team with a higher percentage of its points, and as UW's only returning starter from a year ago, Tucker is looked to effectively as a senior by the current top-eight rotation comprised of half underclassmen.

Killingsworth does average 17.9 points in the Big Ten to 20.7 by Tucker, entering Wednesday, and he also outrebounds Tucker by a margin of 1.2. But as that stretch of just over six minutes showed, Tucker rises to the occasion when his team needs him most. Luckily for the Badgers in this game he got some help.

Then again, nobody is perfect.

"Still, defensively we would like him to keep working at that," coach Bo Ryan said. "And rebounding—to keep blocking guys out."

Perfect he might not be, or a "true" big man, or anything else one might find easy to label—short of perhaps "valuable."

With plenty of basketball left to play and still a long way for the Badgers to either climb to the top or stumble trying, the Big Ten player of the year race is certainly quite open and not limited to just two or three players. Ryan, however, is fairly content to love the one he's with.

"I'm still looking for that perfect game," Ryan said. "I'm not trading him though"

Matt Lewis, a frequent contributor to Badger Nation, is the editor of creative sportswriting site TheHeptagon.com.

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