So much for the #13 Belmont Bruins being that trendy 13-4 upset pick. The #4 Wisconsin Badgers offense returned to form in a 72-58 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Jon Leuer exploded for 17 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to lead the Badgers to their fifth consecutive opening-game win.
“We knew we were playing a very good team. We knew we were going to have to hit some shots. And when we’re hitting shots, believe it or not, we tend to play better,” said Badgers Head Coach Bo Ryan.
By: Nick Grays
But it didn’t take long for the Badgers big three (Leuer, Nankivil and Taylor) to get back on track as they combined to go 5-of-9 from three-point land in the first half. The Badgers ended the half on a 11-2 run and built a 34-27 lead, despite struggling to hold on to the ball early with an uncharacteristic seven turnovers.
The second half was all Wisconsin as Belmont failed to make any kind of run against the stifling UW defense.
Wisconsin was also clutch from the free-throw line where they are approaching an all-time NCAA record which dates back to a 1984 Harvard team. UW shot 20-of-25 from the charity stripe to put their season average at .824, slightly above Harvard’s .822.
Jordan Taylor looked all-conference while knocking down five of his nine shots from behind the arc en route to 21 points. Taylor also recorded six assists as the Badgers had six different players knock down three-pointers in the game.
Even more important than the production from Leuer and Taylor was the production from key reserve and sophomore Mike Bruesewitz. The “Bruiser” was everywhere on Friday and definitely showed no signs of a gimpy knee versus Belmont.
“Mike was huge. He has been huge all year off the bench and when he was in the starting line-up. Jared, Ryan, all those guys off the bench were huge today. Not just scoring, but they did a great job of making it difficult for their bigs, especially in the second half,” said Taylor.
He poured in eight points on 3-of-4 shooting and grabbed nine boards, none bigger than a couple of critical offensive rebounds. If the Badgers can receive production off the bench like they did against the Bruins, this team may be a tough out for any team going forward.
Coach Ryan knows that a win is short-lived in March and is already looking forward to facing the winner of #5 Kansas State and #12 Utah State.
“We won’t be getting too revved up about this. What we have to do is get ready to see who wins this second game and prepare for Saturday,” concluded Ryan.
Nick Grays is a senior editor at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Brewers. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best.