November 30, 2008

Youth to be tested in first true road game

MADISON, Wis. - Jordan Taylor has played in his fair share of big games in hostile territory throughout his young basketball career. A year ago at this time, the Minnesota native was in the early stages of leading his Benilde-St. Margaret high school team to a state championship, and that road was anything but friendly.

But now, as a true freshman point guard at Wisconsin, he is about to play in one of the more hostile environments he has ever been a part of when the Badgers head to Virgina Tech to play the athletic Hokies as part of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Both Taylor and fellow freshman Robert Wilson have averaged a combined 22 minutes per game through UW's first six games this season. And for the most part, they have been sound with the ball and relatively mistake free.

Still, when taking to the road, in front of an opposing crowd, it is usually the younger, less experienced guys that get frazzled and that inexperience can become problematic during that specific game.

"Sometimes a young guy can kind of (get) big eyes in front of the lights on opposing teams," senior forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. "All the fans will be on them, but we'll just calm them down. I think they'll do just fine. They've done a great job so far."

Of the Badgers first six opponents, excluding No. 2 Connecticut, teams have mustered a lackluster 9-12 combined record. In those same games, the Badgers have averaged just over 11 turnovers per outing.

However, when they played the Huskies in the championship game of the Pardise Jam tournament last week that average doubled as UW coughed up the ball 22 times. Of those turnovers, eight came from underclassmen.

Credit UCONN's heady, aggressive and pressure-packed defensive schemes for that display, but it suggests that the Badgers have the propensity to struggle against athletic teams with aggressive and pressure based defenses.

"That's something that we focus on, that's something that every team focuses on," senior Marcus Landry said. "We don't want to have turnovers. Turnovers lead to other baskets for other teams so that's something that we try to focus on and make sure we handle the ball and make good decisions."

After the loss to UCONN, the Badgers could have hit a funk and continued its somewhat sloppy play after returning from the warm weather and playing against a weaker Wisconsin-Milwaukee team. Instead, it committed only six turnovers in a 21-point rout over the in-state school.

In that game, Taylor had only one turnover in 22 minutes of play and Wilson only had one in 11 minutes of action. Needless to say, the lower number of turnovers is welcoming, but lessons need to be learned from every game as this team continues to move forward and improve.

"Our next opponent (is) pretty athletic that way," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "I'm sure we'll see some decision making forced upon us. In other words, we'll see some pressure, overplays, maybe traps, I don't know. Whatever happens you learn to deal with it and improve."

Krabbenhoft added: "You've got to take things from every single game to help you prepare for the next game. Going into Virginia Tech, you're going to face a great athletic team who's going to get up into you defensively. Just from watching them in years past, they're very athletic and they're going to pressure us defensively."

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