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February 11, 2012

Taylor 'never changed' amid offensive struggles

MADISON -- It's a Tuesday afternoon, two days before Wisconsin will travel to Minnesota for a crucial Big Ten road matchup.

At the Kohl Center, the Badgers are wrapping up practice in the Nicholas-Johnson Pavilion.

Bo Ryan has his players line up, shortest to tallest, for free throws to finish practice. Miss, and you run. Make it, and you watch the others run.

Senior guard Jordan Taylor is up third. He misses. But Taylor keeps a smile on his face as he stands and waits for his remaining teammates to shoot.

As the UW players continue through the line, the shots are going in. With two to go -- Frank Kaminsky and Jared Berggren -- Taylor stands alone as the only player to miss. Finally, freshman's attempt rims out.

Ryan gives both Kaminsky and Taylor one more shot.

"Double or nothing," says the Wisconsin head coach.

Confident in their shooting abilities, they each take him up on the offer. Kaminsky hits, Taylor misses. Of all people, the Badgers' senior leader and leading scorer is the only one running after practice. And by missing twice, Taylor got 60, not 30, seconds of running.

"That was kind of funny," said Ben Brust. "That's something that you'll rarely, probably never, ever see again. But that's Jordan for you."

It's been that kind of year for Taylor.

After being named a preseason first-team All-American, things certainly have not gone according to plan for the senior guard. But he has continued to work as hard as ever, leading the 20th-ranked Badgers to 19 wins in their first 25 games of the season.

"Jordan's never changed," Ryan said. "He comes with that look like, 'All right, what are we going to get done today?' I haven't seen anything different in him.

"I don't think he worries about the numbers, because sometimes numbers can be misconstrued. But he'd like to see those numbers on the left hand side (in the win column) pretty high, and he comes to practice every day trying to do that. So he hasn't changed."

Taylor made a name for himself nationally a year ago, averaging 18.1 points per game while leading the nation with a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio. He was one of only three players to lead a conference in assist-to-turnover ratio while also ranking among the league's top five in scoring, and the only one to do so in any of the six BCS conferences.

His efforts earned Taylor first-team All-Big Ten honors, first-team All-America honors from Fox Sports, and second-team honors from the Associated Press, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo!, and CBSSports.com.

Naturally, as the clear leader of this year's Wisconsin squad, and with another year of experience, Taylor was expected to be as good or better during the 2011-12 campaign. Instead, his numbers have been worse across the board.

Taylor averages just 14 points per game as UW's leading scorer, and his shooting percentages are all down. But you wouldn't know it by talking to him or watching him play in a game or at practice.

"Walking into a gym, you wouldn't know he was a preseason All-American," said Mike Bruesewitz. "If you didn't know who he was, you just think, 'OK, that's another basketball player.' You wouldn't be like, 'OK, this is an All-American.'

"He doesn't have that attitude at all. Doesn't think he's better than anybody else. He's one of the hardest workers. And when you have your best player be your hardest worker, that means something's right."

As great as it is to have a guy like Taylor working hard and leading the team even when he's struggling a bit, it's even better to have him put up the numbers Taylor has shown he's capable.

He did that Thursday at Minnesota.

Taylor was due for a game like the one he had in Wisconsin's 68-61 overtime victory at Williams Arena. He did not dish out any assists on the night, but reached the 20-point mark for just the second time all season.

It was one of the rare nights this season that Taylor's outside shots were falling, as he made 5-of-9 from 3-point range. His 27 points were one shy of Taylor's season best mark.

Taylor scored 14 first-half points, including 4-for-4 shooting from the perimeter, to help put the Badgers in control of the game.

"In the first half, they were going down," Taylor said of the threes. "Guys were setting really good screens and getting me separation. And fortunately they were going down."

Heading into the game, Taylor's struggles and the way he has dealt with them was a major topic during interviews with players and coaches.

When Taylor himself was asked about it, he made it clear he does not let his personal numbers affect him.

"I don't really worry about that," Taylor said. "Obviously you know they're not where they were last year. … [But] I really could not care less about that."

As long as the Badgers are winning, that's what really matters to Taylor.

Likewise, Taylor's teammates don't seem too worried about his numbers, especially as long as their team success continues.

"He's doing fine; he's being our leader, being our point guard," Bruesewitz said. "We had a nice little streak there where we were winning and he was closing out games for us. And he's got to continue to do that. I don't think he's frustrated at all.

"He's one of those guys that's in the gym every day. He's working through it, he's getting his stuff done and making sure we're winning. As long as we keep winning, I think we'll be alright with him."


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