Tucker, Taylor set the tone

Juniors have filled leadership roles for Badger men's basketball team

MADISON—When the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team returned from its 59-44 loss at Iowa Saturday night, Kammron Taylor pulled Alando Tucker off to the side.

"(I) told him that us being the older guys and the leaders on the team, we're (where) it starts in practice and we're going to have to jumpstart every practice," Taylor said. "We've got to be the guys going hard in every drill and if something's not going right in practice, we have to address that."

It is no secret that Wisconsin's junior class standouts—Tucker and Taylor—have been instrumental in the team's success this season. After losing five seniors from the team that advanced to the 2005 Elite Eight, Tucker and Taylor were thrust to the forefront as team leaders, and it is not surprising that the Badgers' fortunes have relied on the productivity of those two players.

It is a marvel, however, that the 2005-06 Badgers (19-10 overall, 9-7 Big Ten), who have the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, have not suffered through a more painful transition. Credit Tucker and Taylor for being the bridge between a veteran team and the youthful bunch that UW has sent onto the court this season.

The adjustment has been more pronounced for Taylor, who played very little his freshman year, and was typically the sixth man last season.

"I think he realizes this year that he is ready," Tucker said. "This is his year. Some guys learn it, or are called upon, a lot earlier in their stages. But I think Kam realized that this was his year that he had to be called upon in order to be a leader."

Tucker was no stranger to a heavy collegiate workload. He averaged 31.8 minutes per game as a true freshman in 2002-03. After playing in just four games and taking a medical redshirt in 2003-04, he returned last season and averaged 31.7 minutes.

This year Tucker has averaged 33.4 minutes per game and 34.2 in conference outings. While he has not needed to add much playing time, he has had to become UW's primary leader on and off the court, adapting to the role that players like Kirk Penney, Devin Harris and Mike Wilkinson had commanded since Tucker's arrival.

"A lot of times I have to confide within myself because I know that I have to be the guy that always has to be right," Tucker said. "I have to do everything right in order for our team to win.

"That's one of the things that I had to adjust to at the beginning of the season. It's one of the things that grows on you. And when it comes to this point, it's one of those things that, hey, I'm used to it now."

Tucker's performance this season has defied the weighty responsibility placed on him, via UW's needs and the attention opponents have placed on him all season.

Increasingly, that defensive attention has honed in on Taylor as well, and for good reason. Tucker and Taylor are the engines that have made the Badgers go all season. Sure, other players have stepped up from time to time, but Tucker and Taylor have been constants.

In Big Ten play, Taylor leads the team with 36.1 minutes per game. After Tucker's 34.2, next on the list is senior guard Ray Nixon, at 24.9. All told, Tucker and Taylor have combined to play 30 or more minutes in a game 47 times this season. All other players on the team have contributed 30 or more minutes just 14 times combined.

Tucker, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten choice, led the conference in league-only scoring (20.0 points per game). Taylor, a consensus honorable mention selection, is among the league leaders in scoring, 3-pointers, free-throw shooting and assists.

Between the two of them, Tucker and Taylor have combined for 51 percent of UW's scoring in conference games, 34 percent of its assists, and 35 percent of its minutes.

Tucker and Taylor, though, refuse to look at their crucial roles—and the opposing defenses that are geared to stop them—as a burden. In fact, they have relished their leadership positions.

"I embrace the role and I'm pretty sure Tucker embraces the role," Taylor said. "We're two guys who like to compete. And to have that role, I look at it as a good thing having the young guys looking up to you. They're trying to follow your example."

"I've accepted it at an early stage," Tucker said. "A lot of times a person is called upon depending on how ready they are. I've always felt, myself, I've always been ready. I've always been ready to lead and step up by example."

The duo has needed to adjust throughout this season to the extraordinary attention defenses have directed their way. For the most part, they have handled the challenge well, but Taylor has had some rough stretches recently, including a 4 of 18 shooting night in a loss at Michigan State last week.

The regular season finale at Iowa was tough for each player. Taylor turned the ball over four times and Tucker scored just 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. That elicited Taylor's talk Saturday night.

"I've always been a guy that if a challenge comes my way I'm going to find another way," Tucker said. "I've been a scorer for the team. I have to put up points because I can do it. With the abilities that I've been given I can do that… (But) I have to be more of a creator. I have to create for my teammates."

According to Tucker, the most important thing Taylor can do now is stay confident and persevere.

"A point guard, no matter what's happened in the past, you have to throw all that behind you," Tucker said. "You have to lead us. We are starting over right now and we're looking for you to lead us to a Big Ten Tournament championship."

"I just need to be more consistent," Taylor said. "… He's been consistent so if I'm more consistent then the team is going to follow."

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