December 23, 2009

Badgers outlast gritty Milwaukee squad

MADISON - Jon Leuer missed his first two shots of the game in Wednesday's third of three in-state matchups. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, that was about the only thing the Badger junior did wrong.

Leuer, who has averaged a double-double over the past three games, was at it again. He finished with 25 points and six rebounds. And following his brief, but slow start, Leuer hit 11 of his final 12 shots and the Badgers held on for a somewhat disjointed 68-58 win over the Panthers.

"He plays at such a great pace," Milwaukee head coach Rob Jeter said following the game. "I think what he does well is he creates space. When you're guarding with a big player, there's always going to be enough space for him to comfortably shoot, unless you have a bigger player that can get into him and take away that space."

After trading buckets for the opening 10 minutes, the Wisconsin defense started to work its wonders against an improving Panthers squad. Finally, over the final three and a half minutes of the frame, UW utilized a 9-1 run, mostly in part to Jordan Taylor and Trevon Hughes aggressively attacking the lane, to open a 41-29 halftime edge.

"I think we always try to be aggressive," Taylor, who finished with 14 points and three assists, said. "There are times in the offensive spots where you can look for penetration lanes and they're more open than they are at other times.

"In that instance I just think it was in the flow of the game and the driving lanes were there and we took it."

But it was a game that lacked a good amount of flow and almost seemed disjointed at times. There weren't many turnovers (only 13 combined), but the teams seemed to be playing a bit slower of a pace than usual.

One could chalk that up to the fact that UW has not played a game while working on final exams over the past week. Or you could chalk it up to each team just getting after every loose ball and playing hard.

"Good defense I guess," Hughes, who finished with eight points, five rebounds and four assists, said. "We kind of new each other. It was kind of like playing against the older brother, younger brother thing, like in the backyard. We knew their plays and they knew ours.

"You couldn't really get something together."

When the second half rolled around, UW opened a 15 and 16-point lead on two separate occasions as late as eight minutes into the frame. But Milwaukee, a team formed around discipline with similar traits to UW, started to climb back into the contest late in the game.

When Ricky Franklin hit a jumper from the wing, it cut the Badger lead down to ten with five and a half minutes to play. But that was as close as the Panthers would get as Leuer and company were simply too strong and pulled away.

"We were doing the right things," Jeter, who has never beat Wisconsin, said. "We were trying to get the ball in the paint and we were touching the post. We were posting hard but we just weren't coming away with foul opportunities. That's kind of what you expect when you play a Bo Ryan team.

"They're just not going to beat themselves."

Keaton Nankivil joined Leuer and Taylor as double-digit scorers. Since struggling early in the month, Nankivil has posted back-to-back double-digit scoring efforts with his 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting Wednesday night.

Overall, UW shot 45 percent from the floor and connected on 18-of-20 free throws as it helped its record to 9-2 with just one non-conference game remaining on the slate. Wednesday's game wasn't always pretty, but the Badgers still found a way to get it done.

"I think we just had a bad game," Hughes said. "But we ended up on the left hand side.

"Except for Jon (Leuer). He had a good game."

UW will return to the court Sunday afternoon against UIC for its final tune up before conference play.

Quotes from the post game presser:

-Jeter on Leuer's ability to shoot in between shots:

"He's getting better at playing against guys that are bigger or just as big because he steps off into those soft areas in the court and he's able to create that two to three feet of space. That's all he needs to get a clean look and he's making those. He's very unique. There are not a lot of guys who make those in-between shots that consistently. We talk a lot about 22 percent shots, those are the shots right inside the 3-point arc or right in those soft areas that you kind of want teams to shoot from, but he makes those. He's unique in that way."

-Ryan on Milwaukee's ability to buy into its offense:

"They're willing to buy in and not do what a couple of guys have done in the past where he couldn't count on them. It looks like he can count on these guys, like they're tough-minded individuals. They want to play and they want to listen. That's a pretty good combination for us coaches. We know we can get guys better and I can see Rob has done that with these guys."

-Leuer on his aggressiveness:

"I'm just trying to be aggressive and make plays when they're there. You can't force it. We have guys on this team that, if they key in on one guy, they can hurt them. That helps a lot. We're unselfish and we move the ball, and right now I'm just trying to be assertive and make plays when they're there."

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