Whether it was from the paint, the wing or the perimeter, the Badgers couldn't score a basket, shooting 20 percent (6-for-20) in the final 20 minutes. Tucker made only four shots on 13 tries and Taylor (4-for-9) was the team's leading scorer and best shooter, finishing with 11. Combine that with a 32-10 Hawkeye run and the drive back to Madison was anything but a loud one.
Sitting in the locker room, Tucker was dumbfounded by the Badgers shooting luck and Taylor said very little, fighting back tears before finally heading to the bus. In what started as a promising season that turned ugly in the waning weeks of 2006, the visit to Iowa City summed up what the Badgers had become – average.
Fast forward to 2007 and the results are amazing of what another year of experience and a little momentum can produce.
A year older and a year wiser, Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor blossomed on Sunday afternoon in a variety of ways to lead Wisconsin to a convincing 11-point redemption victory in Iowa City.
Tucker, who is having one of the best seasons in Wisconsin history, lived up to his calling as the "Big Game Player," carrying his team when the eyes of the nation are focused directly on the cardinal and white. Adding the Hawkeyes to a list a victims that include Marquette, Pittsburgh, Georgia and Ohio State, Tucker scored 27 points on an efficient 11-for-14 from the field to make up for last year's shooting performance.
"I thought he did a lot of great things, hit some big shots," Iowa senior Adam Haluska said. "Credit him. [Tucker] played well in this building."
While Tucker was scoring, Kammron Taylor was dishing. Struggling all day with his shot, Taylor found other ways to get involved in the offense, dishing out a team and season-high five assists. In year's past, Taylor would force the shot or force the pass, trying to take it upon himself to make every play. Now, the savvy veteran is using his experience and taking what is presented to him on the court.
"I haven't been scoring like a usually do, but I am trying to find ways to help the team win," Taylor said. "You look at today, I don't shoot the ball well, but I distribute the ball. When my shot is not falling, I have to get other guys involved. That's my job as a point guard. [This season], there's more than my game than just scoring."
When looking at the stats, Wisconsin's victory today is eerily similar to Iowa's win in Iowa City last year. When the Badgers lost to the Hawkeyes, they grabbed more rebounds, forced more turnovers and shot under 30 percent. The same thing happen to the Hawkeyes Sunday, as Iowa won the rebounding battle 40-33, forced three more turnovers and only shot 28 percent in their loss.
"Coming in here [last season], we couldn't buy a shot in the second half and we had our struggles," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. "The experience and depth is what we are banking on [this year]."
Even more eerie were the struggles of the losing team's top-two shooters. While Taylor and Tucker combined to go 8-for-22 last season, Iowa's Haluska and Smith combined for a paltry 6-for-35 Sunday.
"We've been in these types of games were two of your better scorers struggle," Ryan said. "[This game and] last year [are] almost identical. It doesn't matter who you are playing. It's very difficult to come out on top."
Why so similarities in the two games? Look no further than experience.
While Taylor and Tucker tried to harness the scoring load for a sinking basketball team in 05-06, seniors Jeff Horner and Greg Brunner torched the Badgers for 29 of their team's 59 points. Sticking to the script this year, Taylor and Tucker combined to score 56 percent of Wisconsin's points. Even when the Hawkeyes whittled the Badgers double-digit lead to six points or less, Wisconsin, much like the poise they showed in Champaign, didn't get rattled.
"Last year, we were one of the youngest teams in the country and we relied a lot on our young guys," Taylor said. "This year, with the senior leadership that we have, we've been through games like this before and we know how to handle them. Everybody is more mature and experienced."
A little motivation doesn't hurt a group of hungry seniors either. According to Tucker, Ryan broke out a video montage on Sunday morning that depicted the Badger faces during the last few seconds of last season's game, heads in their hands and disappointment written all over their faces. The images resonated with Tucker.
"I didn't want to come here and feel that again," Tucker said. "As I walked down the hallway last year, all I could think about was our bad shooting percentage. I didn't want to feel that again. I wanted to leave everything out on the court."
And in no small part to Tucker's superman-like performance, the mood this year around was certainly cheerier. Kammron Taylor stood in the hallway with a huge smile on his face, lauding everyone from Bo Ryan to Jason Bohannon and proud of the player he's turned into.
As for Tucker, his final walk down that same hallway was one of the slowest saunters of his life. As he approached the doorway leading to the court, Tucker gave one last glance back up the hallway and let out a huge sigh, a sigh that could be labeled as one of relief and appreciation for how far the Badgers have come.
"We're a special team and we've been doing special things all year," Tucker said. "We just want to complete that by winning at Iowa. We want to make the best of every game we have."
Thanks to Alando Tucker, the Badgers did just that.