Saturday, March 19, 2011
Tucson, Ariz. Jordan Taylor couldn't hit a thing, missing open shots and contested ones from just about everywhere on the court.
He did so much more when it mattered, though, and Wisconsin is headed back to the round of 16 because of him.
Taylor hit two big free throws and blocked Jacob Pullen's 3-point attempt in the closing seconds to overcome a rough shooting night, lifting the Badgers to a 70-65 win over Kansas State on Saturday in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Taylor shot just 2 of 16 but came up with the biggest play of the game, swatting Pullen's tying attempt in the final seconds with Wisconsin (25-8) up three. Josh Gasser then hit two free throws to seal it, sending the fourth-seeded Badgers into the round of 16 for the fourth time since 2000.
Jon Leuer led Wisconsin with 19 points and Keaton Nankivil added 12. Taylor finished with 12 points, six assists, no turnovers and one big block.
Wisconsin moves on to face upset specialist Butler, a winner over top-seeded Pittsburgh, in the Southeast regional semifinals Thursday in New Orleans.
Pullen matched a career high with 38 points to break Mike Evans' school career scoring mark (2,115 points), but walked away wiping tears with his jersey after a stellar four years in the Little Apple. Curtis Kelly (11 points) was the only other player to score in double figures for No. 5 seed Kansas State (23-11).
Kansas State and Wisconsin met in the second round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, though only a handful of current players saw playing time in the Badgers' 17-point win.
The rematch, of sorts, was going to be all about which team could get the other to play at its pace.
Wisconsin wanted the game slow, to squeeze its opponent defensively and milk its deliberate, ball-control offense until late in the shot clock, the goal to either set up one of its multitude of shooters or allow Taylor to get into the lane for a layup or dish.
The Wildcats, with their slew of long, athletic players, wanted to turn the Badgers frenetic with pressure to set up easy baskets at the other end.
Kansas State had some speed-'em-up success against Utah State in its opener, hounding the Aggies in the first 20 minutes before holding on for the win in a sloppy second half.
Doing it against Wisconsin wasn't going to be easy.
The Badgers are on pace to set an NCAA record with 7.56 turnovers per game and are led by Taylor, whose 4.03 assist-to-turnover ratio was best in the nation. Wisconsin is also the best free throw shooting team in the country, close to another NCAA mark (Harvard, 82.2 percent in 1984) at 82.3 percent.
The Badgers played their deliberation operation to perfection in their NCAA opener, grinding down Belmont with 12 3-pointers while putting a spoke in the wheel of the Bruins' offense.
After a get-a-feel-for-it start, Wisconsin was able to establish its tempo in the first half against Kansas State, working the ball — deliberately, of course — around to set up shots along the perimeter. The Badgers made most of 'em, too, hitting 5 of 10 3-pointers in the first half to lead 36-30.
Pullen was a freshman when Wisconsin ran over the Wildcats in 2008 and seemed intent on getting payback four years in the making, firing up jumpers even with a hand in his face and dashing into the lane, scoring 17 points in the first half.
Other than an early flurry by Kelly, Pullen didn't get a lot of help, the rest of the team combining to miss its six shots in the first half.
Pullen got the Wildcats back in it quickly in the second half.
He opened by pulling up for a 3-pointer, then faked a pass behind his back to set up a layup and added another 3-pointer to cap a 9-0 run. K-State was back to its swarming ways at the defensive end to complement Pullen's shooting, forcing Wisconsin to miss its first six shots of the half.
The Badgers rallied, went through another string of missed shots and rallied again to set up the tense finish capped by Taylor's game-saving swat.