Taylor outduels Frazier down the stretch
The nation was unified in hoping against another brick-laying competition between Wisconsin and Penn State. But that's exactly what the two teams gave us in the first 20 minutes Tuesday before the No. 19 Badgers awoke to earn a hard-fought 52-46 victory.
Wisconsin (18-5, 7-3 Big Ten) shot 27% in the opening frame while suffering through a 9-minute scoreless stretch. Penn State (10-13, 2-8) committed six turnovers and survived a 1-for-11 shooting stretch of its own to lead 23-17 at halftime.
But the Badgers shrugged off their sluggish past with a renewed commitment to post play. Jared Berggren scored six of his eight points down low in the first five minutes of the second half -- four off his own offensive rebounds and two following his steal -- to seize momentum. As the Wisconsin defense locked down on the Nittany Lions, the front court scored all 13 of UW's points in an 8-minute spurt to grab a 30-26 lead the Badgers did not relinquish.
Wisconsin was buoyed by unexpected 3-pointers from Frank Kaminsky and Rob Wilson during the crucial turnaround. Jordan Taylor assisted on five of the eight UW buckets to start the half, though he would not score a single second-half point until the final five minutes of crunch time.
Sophomore guard Jermaine Marshall was the lone offensive star of the first half, scoring 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the Nittany Lions.
Like most of the Badgers, Taylor was ineffective early on, leading the team with a measly 5 first-half points. His counterpart, Tim Frazier, was held to four first-half points. However, Frazier began to heat up with consecutive jumpers as the game progressed past the 10-minute mark. Two Frazier free throws with 5:37 left on the clock pulled Penn State within 36-34 and set the stage for another classic finish.
Taylor answered with two free throws on the next possession, only to see Frazier hit another floater in the lane. When Taylor came back with a big jumper, Frazier again answered to cut Wisconsin's lead to two again, 40-38.
No one scored over the next two minutes. Penn State even came up empty on four chances in one critical possession that featured three offensive rebounds, a foul on Berggren and two missed free throws. With the game in the balance, Taylor found an opening and buried a straight-on 3-pointer with 1:51 remaining. This time, Frazier could not match Taylor. He missed his next jumper and fouled Taylor, beginning the parade to the free throw line.
Penn State was in a vulnerable position by putting Wisconsin in the bonus with about seven minutes to go in the game. Taylor hit 6-of-8 free throws and Josh Gasser went 3-of-4 from charity stripe in the final minute to ice the game and solidify a trend of clutch Badger free throw shooting.
On the other hand, Wisconsin repeatedly made its task more difficult by affording PSU multiple second chances via offensive rebounds. The Nittany Lions pounded the boards for 20 first-half rebounds and finished with a 36-31 rebounding edge overall.
Luckily for the Badgers, despite 12 offensive rebounds, Penn State was only credited with two second-chance points (compared to nine for Wisconsin).
Berggren led Wisconsin with 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Credit both defenses with putting together extended moments of outstanding effort. As a result, the offenses on both sides resorted to a handful of forced shot attempts as the game began to look eerily similar to last March's 36-33 Penn State win at the Big Ten tournament. At the break, Penn State had outscored the Badgers 59-50 in 60 combined minutes going back to the teams' last final meeting last year.
The teams combined to shoot 3-of-15 (20%) from 3-point land in the first half. The Nittany Lions finished 2-of-10, and shot the exact same number of shots overall in the second half (7-of-26) as Wisconsin had in the first half.
Frazier finished with a game-high 21 points and seven assists with two turnovers. Taylor led UW with 18 points and did not turn the ball over. The senior has posted 18 assists to only one turnover in the last four games.
Along with Taylor overcoming yet another rough shooting night, Bo Ryan will likely see a few little things on tape that helped clinch this road win for Wisconsin. In the second half alone, Gasser weaseled his way into position for a huge offensive rebound that drew a foul and Taylor alertly tied up Marshall on the ensuing miss to swap the possession arrow in Wisconsin's favor. Then with 30 seconds left and UW nursing a five-point lead, Ryan Evans recovered on defense to swat away a Cammeron Woodyard layup attempt to preserve the win.
The win gives Wisconsin its third six-game winning streak of the season. Coupled with Michigan State's loss at Illinois, that means the Badgers will be playing for first place in the Big Ten when it hosts No. 3 Ohio State at the Kohl Center this Saturday.