UW can hold heads high despite loss

first_imgBOSTON – The Wisconsin Badgers’ season ended with a heartbreaking thud Thursday night once Jordan Taylor’s last-second heave fell short, but it began with outside expectations that made a Sweet 16 berth seem laughable.Wisconsin, after losing three starters – two in the frontcourt – was tasked with completing a significant makeover of this year’s roster. When Jon Leuer left for the NBA and Keaton Nankivil graduated to play in Germany, two glaring holes were left at forward and center. Juniors Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren stepped in, despite having started just one game between them in the prior two seasons.When the No. 4 seeded Badgers (26-10) saw their season end in a 64-63 loss to the top-seeded Syracuse Orange (26-10) in the East Regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament at TD Garden, Berggren had finished the game tied for the team-high with 17 points, while Evans had seven. The game snapped Evans’ string of 14 consecutive games with at least 10 points.Given what the team had lost, many outside opinions held that Wisconsin wouldn’t come close to repeating last year’s Sweet 16 berth. Inside the locker room, though, no such thought existed.“Yeah, I never had any doubt,” Berggren said. “Even when we started Big Ten play 1-3, we knew that wasn’t all we had. We went into [North] Carolina when they were [ranked No. 5] and took them down to a three-point game. We had plenty of mistakes in that game, and we were like, ‘Alright, if we would have done this, we could’ve got this win on the road.’ So we had no doubts of what we were capable of, at any point in the season.”It certainly wasn’t smooth, as the Badgers endured a three-game losing streak early in Big Ten play and then lost three of five after a six-game winning streak. But after collecting a rousing road upset of Ohio State on Feb. 9, Wisconsin put together a three-game winning streak to end the regular season.Thanks largely to 30 points from formerly unheralded senior guard/forward Rob Wilson, the Badgers advanced past the Indiana Hoosiers in the Big Ten Tournament. They fell to Michigan State, an eventual No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the following day, though Wisconsin did enter the Big Dance riding high.After two wins in the NCAA Tournament, the Badgers met the top-seeded Orange and took them to the brink. Afterward, head coach Bo Ryan was mainly upbeat, especially considering how far his team had come. Ryan specifically pointed out senior point guard Jordan Taylor’s leadership in helping the young, inexperienced frontcourt gel.“I think it helps if you have played to understand how inexperienced we were with that front line and the things that those guys ended up being able to do to put us at the record that we have and to put us into this position,” Ryan said. “Jordan deserves a lot of credit for that, so he’ll be sorely missed.”Unsurprisingly, Taylor took little credit shortly afterward in the Badgers’ locker room. As the undeniable star of this team, Taylor did have other things to be concerned with. His season began with preseason All-American accolades but was quickly met with weighty criticism after his numbers failed to meet last year’s stellar output. Against Syracuse, he capped a very strong March with 17 points on 6-for-15 shooting (including 5-for-9 from 3-point range), six assists and four rebounds.So when Taylor, with puffy eyes and a look of severe exhaustion on his face, was asked about his hand in leading Berggren, Evans and company to the promised land of the Sweet 16, his answer was an honest deflection of praise.“I don’t know, it’s kind of a hard question to answer just because I feel like they had that in them; it was just for them to come out and show it,” Taylor said when asked about his leadership role with the frontcourt. “I’m sure I had a small role in that, but I didn’t put all the talent in Ryan and Jared and Mike [Bruesewitz]. That’s not me; that’s them working hard in the games in the offseason. My job was just to try and get them ball and encourage them, be a leader for them.”last_img read more