For the second time this year, the No. 1 Wisconsin men's basketball team watched another team storm the court on them following a victory.
While against Indiana the Badgers could only tip their hat to IU's defense and A.J. Ratliff's lights-out 3-point shooting, this time around, UW could only blame themselves for falling, as the team's top players simply couldn't come through.
"[The team] looks to us, they look to us to carry them through times like this," said senior forward Alando Tucker. "It's all about how you bounce back."
While Tucker — who the Spartans' mobbed like an ant colony does a picnic at every touch — was limited to just two points in the second half, it was the lack of help he received offensively, particularly from his backcourt, that proved to be fatal for UW.
Taylor had his worst game of the season, going 0-for-6 from the field with no rebounds and just one assist, plus a turnover, scoring only two points from the free throw line. That was while playing all but one minute of the contest.
"I don't know, I don't know," the somber senior said afterwards, unable to assess what went wrong. "That was all me. I wasn't as aggressive as I should've been."
Meanwhile, Taylor's backcourt-mate Michael Flowers was only slightly better, scoring five points on 2-10 shooting.
"Our shots weren't going down. We were sort of flustered on the offensive end," Taylor said.
While the Madison native — who was unavailable for comment — was able to corral five rebounds, distribute four assists without a turnover and poke away two steals, he also could only watch helplessly as the Spartan's Drew Neitzel — Flowers' primary defensive assignment — toasted the Badgers for 28 points on 10-17 shooting.
"[Neitzel] just caught fire," Taylor said. "It's hard to stop a guy when he's putting up difficult shots and they're still going in. He was hot and unfortunately for us he stayed hot for the whole game."
Neitzel's sharpshooting was a little too much déjà vu for Tucker's liking, however, recalling the Badgers' loss to Indiana.
"The two times we lost, we couldn't contain shooters," Tucker said. "That's one of the things that, if we want to win, if want to be successful, guys are going to have to be able to find ways to stop guys when they get hot. That's the whole team collectively."
It was the first time Taylor had been held without a field goal since going 0-6 against Indiana in the 2006 Big Ten Tournament, also a Wisconsin loss.
"Here's the way you describe on off night: How do you respond the next night?" UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "You've just got to pick up the pieces."
Tucker expressed full confidence in his teammate's ability to rebound from the rough night in time for what will be the game of the season for Wisconsin on Sunday, traveling to Ohio State with a Big Ten championship on the line.
"Kam always bounces back, bounces back strong," Tucker said. "I'm not worried about that."
As for Flowers, even Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo believed that Neitzel's night was more of a superb individual performance, than a lax defensive one by the UW junior.
"I still think Flowers is one of the best defensive players in this league," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said.
Flowers' teammates agreed with Izzo's assessment.
"Some of the shots he was hitting, tough jumpers getting the crowd into it," said senior forward Jason Chappell. "I don't know who could've stopped some of those."
Having now watched the fans of the powerhouse programs Indiana and Michigan State rush the floor after the victories over the Badgers, it is quite clear that UW has earned a level of respect possibly never before achieved in the programs history.
"I guess that's how you know you're good," Chappell said. "Especially with those two teams, those two programs, it says something."
Used with permission from the Badger Herald