Having to come from behind yet again, the Badgers looked very much at home in erasing a six-point deficit over the final eight minutes to grab a 70-65 win over Kansas State (23-11).
In order to move on to the Sweet 16 next weekend in New Orleans, UW (25-8) had to overcome a poor shooting night for junior guard Jordan Taylor (2-of-16 from the field) while also matching the points that Kansas State senior guard Jacob Pullen put up on seemingly every possession. Pullen finished with 38, but the loss means that his career performance will also be his last in a Wildcat uniform.
Though Pullen clearly came out victorious in what many media types had billed "Jacob vs. Jordan," Jordan will be the one in uniform for Thursday's regional semifinal.
"The scoreboard on the bottom of the TV doesn't say Jordan vs. Jacob," Taylor said after the game. "It says Wisconsin vs. Kansas State, and we won."
With Taylor unable to get going on the offensive end, it was up to the supporting cast to keep the Badgers' season alive.
Senior forward Tim Jarmusz had eight points on 3-3 shooting. Freshman guard Josh Gasser collected 11 points on 3-4 shooting from the field, adding seven rebounds and four free throws in the process, the last two of those icing the game with 1.1 seconds to play.
"We just made plays," senior forward Jon Leuer said. "Everybody stepped up, right down the line."
But perhaps the biggest contribution came from sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz. No longer known simply as the team redhead, the hero of the Feb. 12 victory over No. 1 Ohio State came through again. In only his second game since suffering what, at the time, appeared to be a serious knee injury in the Big Ten Tournament, Bruesewitz gave UW 11 points and six rebounds. None of those points were bigger than the three that came with just over 90 seconds to play, giving the Badgers the lead for good.
"He's done it against Ohio State and he did it again tonight," Taylor said. "He's one of the toughest kids I've known and he's a heck of a teammate."
After relying on the production of Taylor and Leuer for much of the season, the supporting cast seems to have found its footing just in time for a tournament run. Ultimately, the 15 bench points, not to mention the 19 from Gasser and Jarmusz, proved to be the difference with UW's two first team All-Big Ten performers just 8-of-26 combined from the field.
"I think guys are realizing that we need to be confident," Bruesewitz said. "Confidence is a big thing in March."
While the shooting stats seem to indicate a night of frustration for Taylor, he was able to control possession throughout the game and make plays down the stretch that were crucial in getting UW out on the left side of the scoreboard.
"His 6-to-0 assist to turnover ratio says that he stayed focused when he was having a rough time scoring," UW head coach Bo Ryan said. "He's a taskmaster of his own skills and his own abilities and he's not going to throw the rest of it away simply because some things have gotten away from him."
Taylor controlled the Wisconsin offensive and kept his leadership role, eventually making a big play of his own by blocking Pullen's attempt at a game-tying three-point shot.
"I was just trying to do something to slow him down and play my part in the win," Taylor said. "And that happened to be it."
Despite some who have criticized Wisconsin's style for its lack of excitement, the Badgers are in the Sweet 16 and remain alive for a title run.
"We come out and play hard every day," Taylor said. "If people think we're boring, there are a lot of channels on TV they can watch."
"We just try to be on the left-hand side when the buzzer sounds," Ryan said.
Ultimately, the Badgers did just that in both games in Tucson and earned their way into a regional date in New Orleans against No. 8-seed Butler Thursday.
It sure would be nice if the Badgers can make to the Final Four. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!