Badgers ride supremely balanced scoring to second big win; lineup changes raise eyebrows before somewhat sloppy affair
MADISON, Wis. - The leading scorer remained the same as in the opener, but he certainly had some help. That Wisconsin senior forward Jon Leuer was able to score 22 points despite seeing double teams nearly the whole game was a feat in and of itself. That the Badgers didn't miss a beat on their way to a 32-point blowout is an indication of just how balanced Wisconsin's offensive attack is this season.
Five players scored in double figures as No. 25 Wisconsin (2-0) took care of North Dakota (1-1) 85-53 Tuesday night at the Kohl Center, in front of a sellout crowd of 17,230.
Fighting Sioux head coach Brian Jones said his team made it a priority to try and slow the talented Leuer and the blossoming Jordan Taylor. UND recorded some small victories, forcing Leuer into three turnovers and Taylor into foul trouble.
"Our goal was to make [Leuer] work," Jones said. "He's obviously very talented. With his length, we were going to take our chances. He's definitely got a lot of skill to his game, whether it's putting it on the deck, or shooting in the post."
When it was all said and done, though, Leuer's effective ball-handling skills allowed him to pass out of the heavy coverage and lead the Badgers with a career-high seven assists. He was consistently able to find Keaton Nankivil, who impressed with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting.
"They're such a good passing team," Jones said. "Whether you play them zone or man, their bigs do a tremendous job of seeing over top of people. We don't have traditional Big Ten size, so those passes were probably a little bit easier for them tonight."
"We are an unselfish team," Leuer agreed. "That's definitely one of our strengths. There were some areas tonight where the defense collapsed on me, so I was able to find some guys and thankfully they were able to knock down some shots."
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said before the season that scoring would have to come by committee this year. Seven players have scored in double figures in at least one of the Badgers' first two games. In addition to the 39 combined points from Leuer and Nankivil against the Sioux, Ryan Evans contributed 11 off the bench, and Taylor and Tim Jarmusz added ten apiece.
"It's five parts, not two, and teammates need to feed off one another, encourage one another, and, as we always say, play off one another," Ryan said.
Jarmusz' output may surprise some fans who remember the senior forward averaging just 2.5 points per game last season. But he went 4-for-4 from the field, including 2-for-2 from three-point range, and also snagged four rebounds. Back problems limited his production a year ago, and head coach Bo Ryan and Jarmusz himself refused to turn to the media for pity.
Interestingly, Jarmusz, a starter nearly all of last season and in the opener against Prairie View A&M, came off the bench, as Ryan gave sophomore Mike Bruesewitz his first career start. A coach not exactly known for lineup changes wasn't done there, though. Just two days after scoring 21 points in his Badger debut, freshman Josh Gasser started alongside Taylor at guard.
That Ryan would change the starting lineup in the second game of the season to give a freshman 25 minutes of playing time says a lot about how high he is on Gasser. The rookie joins elite company, becoming the first UW freshman to start since Alando Tucker in 2003; Tucker and Devin Harris are the only two other players to have started games as freshmen in Ryan's tenure at Wisconsin.
While there are certainly other factors to consider when evaluating this move, like Wquinton Smith's ineffectiveness on offense (he scored just two points in ten minutes Tuesday) and Rob Wilson's absence because of a hamstring strain, give credit to Gasser for earning a spot. He didn't replicate his scoring outburst from Sunday in his starting debut, but he did pick up six rebounds and tally four assists to accompany his seven points.
The game was not always pretty, and 13 Badger turnovers didn't sit well with Ryan.
"[Leuer] could have had 10 assists," he said. "We bobbled a few of them. We have to have some guys work on their hands. We could have had an easy three or four baskets right around the rim if we just catch the ball. Just something we have to work on."
The team will have some time to work on it this week before heading to Las Vegas for its first road game at UNLV Saturday.
"I think we are all ready to go on the road," Taylor said confidently. "It's obviously fun to play at the Kohl Center, but road trips are fun, too. We are looking forward to going out to Las Vegas and try to get our first road victory."