Addition by Subtraction

With Jon Leuer sidelined indefinitely, leaving a void in the starting lineup, Wisconsin needed somebody to step up with the loss of Leuer. With UW set to face the talented Manny Harris Wednesday, Wisconsin will have three talented guards trying to counter, one of which is Jordan Taylor, whose emergence has helped UW cope.

MADISON - When he plays against a team with great guards, Jordan Taylor feels like he himself is becoming a better guard.

That would help explain the tear Taylor is on for the backcourt of Wisconsin. Not only is Taylor getting a chance to compete against some of the best guards in the Big Ten like Kalin Lucas, Chris Kramer and Evan Turner, but the sophomore and former Minnesota Mr. Basketball is able to lock horns every day with seniors guard Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon.

"Playing against tough competitors makes you a better guard and a better player," Taylor said. "Going against Pop and JBo all summer, it made me a better player."

The results have been evident, as Taylor's emergence as a basketball player can't be limited to one statistical category. The sophomore has upped his scoring (9.1 points per game), rebounds (2.7 ppg) and is shooting 41 percent from the floor. While those numbers carry significance, it's the assist-to-turnover ratio that has made Taylor an up-and-coming player in the Big Ten.

Taylor leads the conference and ranks fourth in the nation with a plus-3.39 ratio (61 assists to 18 turnovers), a mark that would rank as the second-best single-season ratio in school history (Mike Kelley is tops with a 4.3 in 1999).

"Jordan does a tremendous job," Bohannon said. "He comes in the game, doesn't commit turnovers and finds the open guy to hit the shot. When you have that, it's a huge spark for the team."

The learning lessons have come each week and will come again Wednesday when No.18 Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) host top junior guard Manny Harris (averaging a conference best 19.6 points per game) and Michigan (10-7, 3-2) Wednesday at the Kohl Center.

As valuable as the time on the court as been in the maturation of Taylor, the time spent away from the practice court, learning things on the fly, picking the brain of his senior guards has helped him see the game develop as a much slower pace.

"Right after a loss, we'll be talking on the bus about a certain play or why that happened or what they were thinking when they made a certain play," Taylor said. "I try to learn more everyday and be a student of the game."

On the flight home from East Lansing, the trio talked about the emphasis on closing out games, if they have the lead or not. After missing on opportunities against Michigan State, where Taylor admits to settling on junior Jon Leuer making the play instead of himself, Taylor made sure the Badgers fared better against No.4 Purdue.

With Hughes on the bench because of foul trouble, Taylor assumed the leadership role, helping the Badgers to climb out of an early deficit by scoring 13 first-half points. Taylor finished with a career-high 23 points (7-of-11 shooting, 8-of-11 free throws) but without his work in the first half, Wisconsin, admitted UW coach Bo Ryan, could have been down 15 points instead of leading by one.

"It's takes somebody who is comfortable in his own skin, intelligent, tough and understands what this is all about," Ryan said. "All those things. Jordan is out there and doing what he is doing because he can handle that. He can start, not start, and still be the same guy because he's mature enough to be able to do that."

That even-keel nature is what prompted Ryan to start Taylor in the absence of Leuer, who is out indefinitely after recovering from left wrist surgery. No longer coming off the bench to provide relief, Taylor is still able to take the burden off of Hughes at the point guard.

With Hughes struggling with his shot at Northwestern, Taylor chipped in with 10 points and dished out a career-high seven assists to zero turnovers, allowing Hughes time to find his shooting touch and allow the Badgers to escape Evanston with a rare win.

"He's showing a great deal of leadership out there," Hughes said of Taylor. "He's running the squad, which is good because he is my back-up. It just doesn't open up me, but everybody. With him coming in the game and distributing the ball to everybody opens everybody's game up."

With Leuer out, taking away UW's best post scoring threat, the familiarity between Taylor, Hughes and Bohannon has created the Badgers best scoring catalyst. Against Northwestern, the trio scored 45 of UW's 60 points and 34 of UW's 51 points at Ohio State, scoring that allows Wisconsin to keep battling without its biggest weapon.

"We play well off of each other," Taylor said. "Pop and JBo have been playing together for over three years now and I have been here over a year. We talk basketball a lot, so I think it goes well on the floor because we know what each other is thinking. You can never get too good at that."

Sitting in third place in the Big Ten, the conversations haven't stopped between the three guards, especially with Taylor doing most of the questioning. With UW setting its sights on another Big Ten Championship and with Bohannon and Hughes leaving after this season, it will soon be Taylor's show. For a man as competitive as he is, he wants to be fully prepared to make sure there isn't a drop off in success.

"Every time I put on the Wisconsin jersey, I expect to win, just because of what players have done in the past and what Coach Ryan has done," he said. "I don't care if we are playing Duke of the Chicago Bulls of 1997-98, I expect to win and that doesn't change."

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