In UW's final in-state rivalry of the season, the duo could be counted on once again, as Leuer and Taylor helped UW shake off a week of competitive rust to grit its way to a 68-58 victory Wednesday over Milwaukee.
Leuer poured in 25 points with multiple baseline jumpers, a shot that carried Wisconsin (9-2) through a tight first half (scoring 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting) and helped the Badgers weather the storm thereafter, registering four of UW's eight second-half field goals.
"Jon Leuer did a great job of positioning," said UW coach Bo Ryan, as Leuer helped the Badgers shot 53.6 percent in the opening 20 minutes, the 11th half this season where UW shot 50 percent or better. "His teammates found him and Jon was the guy that made us go offensively … He takes what the defense gives him."
Entering this season, Leuer had surpassed the 20-point barrier once in his career. Over the past four games, the junior is averaging 22.5 points and nine rebounds.
"I am just trying to be aggressive and make plays when they are there," Leuer said. "When they aren't, you can't force it because we have guys on this team that can hurt'em. We are unselfish, we move the ball and right now I am trying to be assertive."
After showcasing his talents in relief last season, playing 14-plus minutes in 10 of UW's final 16 games, Taylor has been the first man off the bench for Ryan and the sophomore hasn't digressed.
Entering the game leading the Big Ten and third in the nation with a 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Taylor scored 14 points - scoring half of his points from the free throw line - while grabbing six rebounds and 3-to-1 in assists, giving UW another bonafied scoring threat off the bench.
"It's a huge lift, not only scoring but he can penetrate, drive gaps and find people," Leuer said. "He always seems to make the right decisions and having that coming off the bench, that's a big lift for us."
Milwaukee (8-5) stayed close on the heels of senior and leading-scorer Ricky Franklin (13 points) and junior Anthony Hill (12 points) coming off the bench to hit his first four shots, including taking advantage of a defensive miscommunication for a layup at 3 minutes, 30 seconds that brought the Panthers within 32-28.
Wisconsin's guard play took over from there. After a pair of free throws by Taylor, Hughes' made a cross-over move that forced a foul by freshman Lonnie Boga. The play proved critical, as Hughes' flip toward the basket floated in, resulting in a fist pump from the senior guard and a 37-28 UW cushion.
A runner by Taylor in the lane and a nifty cross-over move by Hughes that fooled Franklin, resulting in an easy lay up, on the next two possessions gave UW a 12-point lead.
"We always try to be aggressive and there (are) times in the offensive when you can look for penetration," Taylor said of the 9-1 run. "That instance, it was in the flow of the game, the driving lanes were there and we took it."
After the two teams shot over 50 percent in the first half, the second half saw the shooting percentages slide dramatically, especially when the two teams combined to score four points during a 5 minutes, 57 second period after the 12-minute mark in the second half, a stretch featured one made field goal, four missed layups and three missed free throws.
"Looking at the shooting percentage of both teams, you knew one team was going to cool off a little bit and unfortunately it was us," said Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter, as the Panthers shot 41 percent in the second. "They shot 34 percent too, but the difference for us was we needed to make some of those shots to get the lead below 10. The ball just wouldn't go down."
Added Hughes: "It was like the older brother playing against the little brother in the backyard. We knew how they play and (they knew) how we play."
Combine the fact that Leuer went scoreless for nearly 10 minutes and none of his teammates picking up the slack and the Badgers saw Milwaukee chip the lead down to 10 three separate times, the final time at the 4:45 mark.
Thanks to Hughes and Leuer, the Badgers got enough of a spark to carry them to the end. Blocking Franklin on a baseline jump shot, Hughes pushed the ball up to Leuer, who hit a turn-around fade away. Leuer was fouled in the process, pushing the UW lead back to 15 with less than four minutes to go.