March 9, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- While the two seniors guards, Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson, were taking care of their formal responsibilities in the media interview room at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the two sophomore guards, Josh Gasser and Ben Brust, were holding court in the UW locker room.
"It was something unbelievable, that was just crazy," Brust said of Wilson's 30-point explosion here Friday against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. "He has had his ups and downs but it's good to see him coming along lately, especially as a senior.
"It's never too late, I guess."
Over the last five games, Wilson has garnered increased playing time and that has resulted in more offensive production off the bench. Prior to playing the Hoosiers, he had made seven of his last 16 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
"I think he just realized that he doesn't want the season to end," said Brust. "He doesn't want to stop playing basketball. That's what is great about having good seniors leading the team because they're not going to quit no matter what."
During the week of practice leading up to their quarterfinal game, Taylor had set the tone with his aggressiveness against the scout team. Considering that he had never won in three previous trips to Indy, there was plenty of incentive to take care of business.
"There's a sense of urgency throughout the whole team," said Brust, who had twice hit seven triples in a game earlier; a school record that Wilson matched Friday. "I definitely think it's a good thing when it starts with your captain (Taylor) and your seniors, Jordan and Rob.
"We're just feeding off them and trying to do this together as a team."
That message was sent in the first 10 minutes when the Badgers got off to a fast start, thereby exorcising some of the shooting demons that have haunted them in this building. Last year, they scored only 33 points in a loss to Penn State. They had 36 at half on Friday.
"That was important against a high-powered offense like theirs (the Hoosiers were averaging 77 points in all games)," said Gasser who hit his first three shots from beyond the arc. "We had to match them by knocking down shots, and we had multiple guys do that."
In the second half, the Hoosiers got within one point of the lead on multiple occasions but the Badgers were able to counter-punch and hold them off. "They'd go on those little runs but we never let them get over the hump," Gasser said.
Wilson, in particular, stemmed Indiana's momentum countless times with clutch shots. "He's playing with confidence," Gasser said. "He has shown that ability in practice and now it's finally transferring over to the games. We've seen him like that before."
Given that Wilson played only two minutes in the first and only meeting between these two teams earlier this season, it's hard to imagine that the Hoosiers had much of a scouting report on him. Taylor has been the guard that has killed them in the past.
Taylor, in fact, scored 28 and 39 points against Indiana last season, and he was one of four UW players who scored in double-figures in Wisconsin' 57-50 win over the Hoosiers at the Kohl Center in late January. Brust led the way with 13.
Although Wilson's play at both ends of the floor Friday - and he was very good defensively - tended to cast a shadow over everybody else, Jared Berggren had a big impact on the outcome by getting a draw with heralded freshman Cody Zeller.
Berggren had 16 points and nine rebounds, Zeller had 17 points and just one board.
Berggren has saved some of his better efforts for some of the better "bigs" that he has faced in the Big Ten. He scored 18 and 12 points against Illinois' Meyers Leonard and had 18 points against Jared Sullinger in Columbus.
"We were kind of treating this like it was a road game," Berggren said. "We knew they'd have a ton of fans here being this is their home state. Every time they were chipping away at our lead in the second half, you could feel the energy in the place.
"It's one of those things if you do give up the lead; it kind of gives them more confidence and gets the crowd really into it. So it was important to do enough to withstand their runs and keep matching them.
"It was a lot of fun just watching Rob come down and hit all those 3's. Every time they got close, he was right there; he was hitting some big shots. Towards the end of the game, he took that charge which was huge. He did more than just score today."
Upon returning to the UW locker room, Wilson was greeted by another swarm of reporters and sportscasters. While answering question after question, his back was literally against the wall, an appropriate metaphor for his career.
Wisconsin's other Wilson - the one not named Russell - deserved the attention. He admitted his final 3-point hit - a dagger in the closing minute - felt great. But he said, "It felt even greater to look over to my bench and see my teammates enjoying it with me."
Did he hear the Rob Wilson chants from the Badger fans? "I wasn't expecting that, but it's a great feeling," said Wilson adding that his mom would probably bring him down to earth by telling him, `Great game but go out there and do it again."
Wilson remembered having a couple of 30-point games in high school.
UW associate head coach Greg Gard remembered those games, too.
Gard recruited Wilson out of Cleveland.
What he saw here Friday was almost beyond description, though.
"He was just feeling it," Gard said of Wilson's shot-making. "There were some that he pulled coming off screens that I haven't seen him pull in awhile. You could tell that he was overflowing with confidence, and his teammates fueled the fire by feeding him."
Gasser and Taylor each had four assists.
Gard gave Taylor another assist for getting this team ready to play.
"I thought he came to practice with an extra chip on his shoulder," Gard said. "There were a couple of days where he took over the whole practice. This group had never won a Big Ten tournament game and they wanted to show that the regular season wasn't a fluke."
Before the Badgers staged their Senior Day last Sunday at the Kohl Center, Gard addressed the legacy of the two senior guards. "For Jordan Taylor you will remember what he has become," he said, "and for Rob Wilson you will remember what he has overcome."
You will also remember that Wilson became the story for one postseason game.
A grinning Wilson left the impression that he's not done yet, either.
He never stopped grinning Friday.