The No. 14/15 Wisconsin men’s basketball team (11-6 Big Ten, 22-8 overall) will close out its regular season Sunday at the Kohl Center against the Illinois Fighting Illini (6-10, 17-12).
For seniors Rob Wilson and Jordan Taylor Sunday, will be both a special and emotional day as it is Senior Day and both will be playing their last game in front of the Kohl Center’s Grateful Red.
Sunday will also be special for Badger fans as it will be the last time they will see one of the greatest players in UW history take the court in Madison.
Point guard Jordan Taylor is one of the most decorated players in Badger history. Taylor is ranked ninth all-time on Wisconsin’s all-time scoring list and is second all-time in assists. He has also been a model of efficiency, coming into the year on pace to shatter the all-time assist-to-turnover ratio.
Taylor is also a two-time finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, a 2012 preseason first-team All-American and is one of the 30 finalists for the 2011-2012 Naismith Award. Taylor has represented the UW with great poise and has set a great example for future Wisconsin basketball players to follow.
To send off Wilson and Taylor with a victory in the regular season finale, the Badgers will have to come out with much more energy and execution than they did in the first half of their last game against Minnesota. In a lackluster first half at the Kohl Center Tuesday night, the Badgers made just four of 21 shots (19 percent) and finished out the half with just 16 points. Wisconsin came out and played much better in the second half.
“The first half, it was ugly. Coach [Ryan] gave us a good speech at halftime. We wanted to come back and bounce back. I am just glad we got the opportunity to go back out there and do it again,” junior forward Ryan Evans said after Tuesday’s win against Minnesota.
Wisconsin will definitely be fooling themselves if they think they can start games with such poor offensive execution and still win games.
Although, with the way Illinois is had been playing recently, they might have been able to get away with it. Since pulling off an upset victory over then No. 5 Ohio State, Illinois has fallen off the face of the earth, losing all but two of their next 11 games. The losing streak took an emotional toll on the Illinois players, even causing 7-foot-1 sophomore center Meyers Leonard to break into tears with his head under a towel on the bench as the Illini were being blown out by the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Feb. 18.
Leonard and the rest of the Illini were able to exorcize some of their demons by beating Iowa in their most recent game and were visibly relieved that had won again. Leonard was able to redeem himself, leading the way for Illinois with 22 points and 14 rebounds in the victory. With the win over Iowa, Illinois still has a very tiny possibility of getting into the tournament, but it will most likely have to get wins over both Michigan Thursday night and Wisconsin Sunday to even have a chance at an at-large bid.
Once again, Wisconsin will be playing against a team that has its back against the wall and is looking for any scent of momentum. It will be very important for the Badgers not to repeat their first-half performance against Minnesota, or they might be giving the barely breathing Illini a chance at resurrecting their hopes of a tournament berth.
“They have been struggling but they have a lot of talent over there. It is a game we have to go in and play with more energy,” junior forward Mike Bruesewitz said.
If history is any indicator, head coach Bo Ryan will definitely have his team ready to close out the season. Wisconsin has won all 10 Senior Day games under Bo Ryan’s tutelage.