February 16, 2010

UW sees seamless transition with Leuer back

MADISON - When the Wisconsin men's basketball learned Jon Leuer was going to be out for an indefinite amount of time, it seemed everyone wanted to know how the Badgers would respond without him.

Nine games and a 6-3 record later, UW is still a legitimate contender in the fight for the cluttered Big Ten championship. And the Badgers will hit the stretch run with Leuer back in the fold after the junior forward returned to practice Monday afternoon.

But now the question that remains to be answered is whether Leuer's return will disrupt any flow or chemistry the team developed without him in the lineup. The questions essentially went from how the team will do without him to how the team will do with him.

"We've had him gone for a little bit, but we've had players gone before and step out of their role like that for a little bit for a game or two or whatever," UW senior guard Jason Bohanon said. "We'll be fine with him back in."

At this point, it is still unclear if and how much Leuer will play against Minnesota Thursday night. Following Monday's practice, some of the assistant coaches were saying they were just going to take it one day at a time and see if there are any setbacks.

While Leuer said he is completely confident in the strength of the wrist as well as his ability to play without hesitancy, one can never truly know how an injury will react when subjected to rough conditions.

If the junior gets minutes Thursday, however, things that have been developing and working could be thrown off for a team that has been playing solid basketball over the past four weeks.

But like Bohannon, Jordan Taylor, the player that took Leuer's starting spot when he was injured, claims there won't be an adjustment period when Leuer steps on the court during a game.

"I think with Jon back, he's another post presence for us," Taylor said. "So you can get the ball in the paint by pass instead of dribble. When he kicks it back out, I think it makes it easier to get back in with the dribble. With Jon back, we just got to keep getting better.

"Obviously we're happy to have him back."

With him back in the mix, UW gets a player that was averaging nearly 16 points and six rebounds per game. Prior to his injury, he was also shooting nearly 53 percent from the field.

But his presence in the post, like Taylor suggested, is likely the area where the Badgers will relish his return the most. With Leuer in the lineup earlier in the year, Wisconsin was averaging nearly 24 points per game from the paint. When he was out, the Badgers saw that number dip to 15.3 points in the paint per game.

"We got into the post in different ways," Bohannon said. "Maybe not so much with our back to the basket, but we were able to get into the paint and into the post in a variation of ways. However you get the ball down low like that, it's going to be helpful."

Like Bohannon intimated, having the team's best back-to-the-basket player back on the floor is going to be helpful, too. Even if some rust does need to be shaken off after Leuer's lengthy layoff.

But then again, Leuer doesn't seem to be too concerned about it.

"I don't see my role changing at all," Leuer said. "I feel like my role no matter what is just doing whatever I can to help this team win. If anybody has a problem with that, they can tell me."

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