Wisconsin rides Taylor, Leuer to gritty win over South Dakota; Wilson rides bench
MADISON, Wis. - Fans blame Mike Bruesewitz for missing a jumper with 1:17 to play.
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan doesn't quite see it that way.
Junior guard Jordan Taylor finished just one assist shy of the first triple-double in school history, but he still led the Badgers (6-2) to a hard-fought 76-61 victory over South Dakota (3-5) Saturday at the Kohl Center in front of a sellout crowd of 17,230.
To hear Ryan tell it, no one but Taylor himself is responsible for failing to accomplish the feat.
"The reason why he came up short is because he had one turnover in the first half," Ryan explained. "If he would have taken care of the ball and made the right pass, he would have had a triple-double, the first one in school history."
He then smiled and reflected on just how big a game his starting point guard had played.
"How about that performance?" Ryan marveled. "[The Coyotes] are good. They shoot it well. It was Jordan that was the difference maker."
Taylor settled for his first career double-double, finishing with 20 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 39 minutes. He committed just one turnover. He continued to do the bulk of his damage in the paint, something that has been a point of emphasis for the entire team since its disappointing three-point shooting percentage in the Old Spice Classic.
"I was trying to be aggressive and tried to create different opportunities for both myself and my teammates," Taylor said. "I know I missed quite a few layups around the rim, and if we would have made those, it might have looked a little different."
Only the play of senior forward Jon Leuer could have possibly upstaged Taylor's performance. He scored a career-high 29 points on 11-of-21 shooting. With the Coyotes intent on double-teaming him down low, Leuer decided he would just start shooting, and the results were not pretty for head coach Dave Boots. He started the game 4-for-4 from behind the three-point line and finished with six treys.
"I definitely worked on [three-point shooting] in the off-season, tried to improve my shot and make it more consistent," Leuer said. "I just take the looks the defense gives me and try to make the right reads."
Together, Leuer and Taylor combined to account for 49 of the Badgers' 76 points, 20 of their 37 rebounds and 11 of their 19 assists. They have carried the scoring load for Wisconsin in a big way so far this season. The team's third-leading scorer is freshman Josh Gasser at 7.9 points per game.
"Their two really good players certainly stepped up in this game," Boots said. "They made the plays when they needed to. They rebounded, they made no mistakes, they didn't turn the ball over at all."
Ryan may disagree with that last part. They held just a five-point lead at halftime, thanks largely to seven first-half turnovers. They improved noticeably after the break, committing just two the rest of the way.
"One handed-passes, there is a time for those," Ryan said. "We haven't been one of the best teams in the country in terms of taking care of the ball by accident. You just follow the rules."
"I think the turnovers led to some of [the Coyotes'] threes," Leuer said. "If we could have had fewer turnovers and finished around the basket, we could have eliminated some of their open looks."
The mystery after the game was why junior guard Rob Wilson only played seven minutes, all in the first half. Wilson missed the first part of the season with what Ryan called a strained hamstring and he seemed to be gradually working his way back into the lineup. Expected to start alongside Taylor before the season, Wilson's playing time has been heading in the wrong direction, which is a surprise considering the team's lack of depth at his position.
He went 3-for-3 from the floor, made two assists and snagged a rebound in his limited stint Saturday. So, why the early hook?
"There are certain things we do, that we say, and when you don't do it, you need to watch," Ryan said bluntly. "It's pretty simple. That's for us to deal with. I have rules on defense. If guys aren't playing as much against certain teams, it might be because, defensively, they don't handle certain things real well. I never worry about the individual. I worry about putting the team out there that is going to be the best. That group out there at the end was the best we have had up to this point. You do something the way it was supposed to be done and you get rewarded. I still think that's a pretty good deal."
With Wilson in the proverbial doghouse and Wquinton Smith averaging just a point per game, Ryan seems to have settled on the rookie Gasser as his shooting guard, not just for the future but for the present. He only scored five points in 28 minutes Saturday, but it's clear he brings the defense and hustle Ryan is looking for.