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Badgers stifle Panthers with smothering defense; Leuer, Taylor dominate as Nankivil emerges

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin entered Wednesday night's game against UW-Milwaukee allowing its opponents just 54.1 points per game and 37.7 percent shooting.

Suffice it to say, those averages just went down. And, if you're a Badger fan, down is good in this case.

The Badgers (7-2) allowed just 15 first-half points in a 61-40 win over the Panthers (4-5, 1-1 Horizon League) in front of a sellout crowd of 17,230 at the Kohl Center. UW-Milwaukee managed just 30.8 percent shooting.

The Badgers collected 26 defensive rebounds and blocked five shots. They forced the Panthers into 15 turnovers.

"[The Badgers] did a nice job defensively," UW-Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter said. "Their length and their discipline defensively really makes it difficult for teams and it made it difficult for us tonight."

The most active defender was senior forward Keaton Nankivil. Charged with guarding the best player on the UW-M roster, senior forward Anthony Hill, Nankivil answered the call. Hill scored just three points, all from the free-throw line, as Nankivil held him without a field goal (0-for-8).

Nankivil led the Badgers with nine rebounds and blocked three shots, including two in the course of one first-half possession. He also recorded two of the team's three steals.

Hill went into the locker room at halftime without a point as the Panthers made just six baskets from the floor in the first 20 minutes.

"[Hill] got touches," Jeter said. "As we got into the middle part of the game, I think he got a little discouraged, started taking some shots that weren't as strong. We never really got a chance to get our inside game going at all."

Senior forward Jon Leuer and junior guard Jordan Taylor are beginning to make a habit of accounting for more than their share of the Badgers' production. The duo combined to score 34 of Wisconsin's 61 points and make nine of the team's 11 assists.

Leuer went 9-of-15 from the floor and snagged seven rebounds, while Taylor sunk two three-pointers and found his way to the free-throw line, where he was 4-for-4.

The need for a third scoring option has become a storyline in recent weeks, as Big Ten season is approaching and the Badgers will undoubtedly run into teams capable of stopping their two-man show.

Reenter Nankivil, who matched his defensive effort with 10 points on efficient 5-of-6 shooting. He is capable of contributing big point totals at times, but can he do it consistently enough to be a legitimate threat? Wednesday's game was a good start, as he got open and knocked down shots. With the way Leuer and Taylor are demanding defenses' attention, Nankivil should see more of those open looks.

While the Badgers' starters have remained unchanged since the exhibition season, Ryan continues to tinker with his bench. Senior forward Tim Jarmusz continues to see the most action besides the starters, and he played 19 minutes Wednesday.

It was interesting to see redshirt sophomore Ryan Evans get an extended look against the Panthers. He has struggled offensively all season, and some think he has been pressing. Evans went 1-of-5 from the floor and scored three points.

Redshirt sophomore forward Jared Berggren saw nine minutes on the court after being held out in favor of a smaller lineup Saturday against South Dakota. Berggren turned the ball over four times and committed five fouls.

Nothing is set in stone beyond the five starters, it seems. Senior walk-on Wquinton Smith brings defense, but not offense. He failed to score in nine minutes Wednesday. Junior guard Rob Wilson has limitless scoring potential, but he often looks confused on the other end, which will never earn him valuable playing time under Ryan.

It will be interesting to see the moves Ryan makes when the pressure is on in the Bradley Center this weekend against Marquette.