Nankivil Provides the Bounce Back

Keaton Nankivil scored 14 for UW  (Koshollek/11)

No.20 Wisconsin got its typical home production from senior Jon Leuer and junior Jordan Taylor, but it was the offensive timeliness and defensive performance of senior Keaton Nankivil that made the difference in the Badgers' 76-66 victory over No.16 Illinois Saturday.

MADISON - It takes a workmanlike attitude, and a minor case of forgetfulness, to continue the impressive bounce-back run that Wisconsin is stringing together.

The Badgers have endured hot shooting, flat performances, a few self-inflicted losses and a lot of close heartbreak over the past two seasons, but No.20 Wisconsin never gets too high or too low after any one game, especially with always another challenging 40 minutes next on the schedule.

"You can't do anything about the past … unless you have a time machine," junior Jordan Taylor said. "We just move on to what's next and try to get the next one."

With six seniors and a veteran point guard on the roster, there's never been a question of ‘if' UW will bounce back, because it always seems to happen like clockwork.

Winning its 18 consecutive game following a loss, Wisconsin outworked No.16 Illinois in the second half thanks to the play of its three leaders – Jon Leuer, Taylor and Keaton Nankivil – a group that scored 81.6 percent of its points in a 76-66 victory Saturday afternoon.

After the crunch-time implosion it experienced Tuesday, the opportunity to seize control was only go to last so long for the Badgers. Enter Nankivil to right the ship, as the senior helped Wisconsin (13-4, 3-2 Big Ten) take control in the first three minutes of the second half, hitting two 3-pointers, the second of which capped a 10-0 run to give the Badgers a 37-25 working margin.

Just as big was his sequence at the midway point that Nankivil positioning underneath forced senior Mike Tisdale to the bench with his third foul with 10 minute left. The next series down, he promptly hit a three in the face of Tisdale's replacement, extending the lead back to 12.

"He's been big for our team and one of the most underrated players in the league if you ask me," Taylor said. "He's athletic as anybody and he went up like a receiver. That was a big rebound and to get Tisdale to the bench. He got us going and he kept us going with that play."

In holding Illinois (13-5, 3-2) to 30.2 percent shooting, its lowest of the season, the Badgers made both parts of Illinois' one-two punch of Demetri McCamey and Tisdale work for everything it got. After the duo scored a combined 46 points in the team's first meeting, a 69-61 Illini win Jan.2, Nankivil made Tisdale a non-factor, as the Illini senior finished with eight points, nine rebounds and three turnovers.

"All year, Keaton has been taking the best interior man on the other team and either shutting him down or containing him to the best of his ability," Taylor said. "Keaton has been great all year defensively for us. Anytime he's doing that plus the way he's playing offensively, he's one of the best players in the Big Ten."

Although McCamey finished with a team-high 23, the defense of Taylor and senior Tim Jarmusz limited him to only 3-for-13 shooting.

It's been a long time coming for Nankivil to really relish an outstanding performance in a crunch-time game. Twice Nankivil has scored 20-plus points in his career. Both coming against Purdue and both games ended in close losses.

On Tuesday, Nankivil went 5-for-6 from 3-point range and finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals, but he spent more time taking ownership that he couldn't help his team close out a nine-point lead at Michigan State.

He had few excuses to make – only that another breakaway dunk of his rattled out - after his 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists, a performance that gave him his eighth double-digit performance in the last nine games.

When he fouled out with 1:18 left on one of many questionable calls, appearing to have successfully completed his fourth block, he jogged off to a standing ovation.

"He's a great spot-up shooter," said Illinois Coach Bruce Weber. "He knows the system, he's older and he knows how to play off of Leuer, Taylor and the system to get open shots. If he's open, you kind of know it's going to go in."

The fouls were the game's undercard, as 54 fouls were called, 77 free throws were shot and two players fouled out from each team.

"If it was the dance, they would have called it off," UW Coach Bo Ryan said. "There was absolutely no rhythm … That was a tough game to officiate. Hard fought, guys getting after it."

Just as important as Nankivil stepping up, Leuer regained his clutch form. After not attempting a shot in the final 13:42 of UW's loss Tuesday, Leuer stayed aggressive, scoring 15 of his game-high 26 points after halftime and finishing one rebound shy of his third double-double of the season.

"I didn't feel I had a good performance at Michigan State, so there was definitely some motivation to help the team more," Leuer said. "I felt like against Michigan State, I let my teammates down by not being aggressive, make good plays and good reads. I feel like I did a better job with that."

Despite shooting 3-for-10 from the floor, Taylor added 22 points by virtue of going 16 of 18 from the free throw line.

With both teams coming off bitter road losses, one would think the level of anger and anguish would be chart topping from the opening tip. Quite the contrary, as neither team could find any semblance of rhythm.

Illinois, entering the game shooting a conference-best 58.7 percent in league play, started 3 of 15 from the floor, including a 13 minute, 40 second stretch in which it made more turnovers (4) than field goals (1).

"It always seemed like we were always in a hurry, in a panic," Weber said. "I thought we made some bad decisions, some bad rotations."

One of the Badgers' downfalls 13 days ago in Champaign was their perimeter shooting, finishing an ugly 10 of 35 (28.6 percent), but their only three-point make of the half set the tone.

After Illinois took a 25-24 lead, forcing a UW timeout, Taylor penetrated into the lane, kicked it to a wide-open Jarmusz in front of the Illinois bench and watched as the senior nailed the team's only first-half 3-pointer.

It evidentially gave the team a boost, as UW went on a 13-2 run over the next five-plus minutes and never relinquished control.

It evidentially gave the team a boost, as UW went on a 13-2 run over the next five-plus minutes and never relinquished control.

"It was huge," said Ryan, as UW shot 8.3 percent from three (1-for-12) and 34.6 percent overall (9-for-26). "It was huge. To hit that with the clock winding down, I'll take that."

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