MADISON – As he looked up at the Kohl Center scoreboard on February 12, 2011 and saw his team down 15 against No.1 Ohio State with 13:18 remaining, guard Jordan Taylor looked around at the other players on the floor and saw one thing: confidence.
"Sometimes in games like that, guys would get that dejected look or you could tell that your teammates are kind of out of it," Taylor said Wednesday. "Nobody seemed that way."
When it comes to confidence, Taylor, now the senior point guard for the Wisconsin men's basketball team, doesn't lack any. The Bloomington, Minn., native looks at each situation as an opportunity -- an opportunity to get better, gain momentum and make a statement.
In the final 13 minutes, 18 seconds of Wisconsin's 71-67 win over the top-ranked Buckeyes that evening, Taylor exuded confidence with his 21-point second half, a combination of hitting 3-pointers, jumpers in the lane off ball-screens and seeing four of his passes turn into 10 much-needed points.
It also set the tone for the remainder of the season for Taylor and Wisconsin, as the point guard finished the season with 617 points, the fifth-highest single-season mark in school history, and the Badgers finished the season 25-9 and advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to eventual runner-up Butler.
With the Badgers holding their first official practice of the 2011-12 season Saturday morning, the Badgers will begin their first step of making a similar statement with a new cast of characters.
"We always have high expectations of ourselves, but saying it and doing it are two different things," Taylor said. "When you can beat a team like that and gain some momentum and confidence in each other, it's a snowball effect. Confidence is one of the most important things in anything, especially athletics and basketball."
Wisconsin returns its starting backcourt from a year ago, in Taylor and sophomore Josh Gasser along with reserve junior forward Mike Bruesewitz, who started 13 games and averaged 19.9 minutes per game last season. Those three will be the main players responsible early if the Badgers hope to adequately replace a six-member senior class that was responsible for 46.4 percent of the scoring, 45.3 percent of the rebounding and 31.2 percent of their assists from a year ago.
The Badgers will go through that period of transition by playing as many as five nonconference teams that made last season's NCAA Tournament, including three teams that made the Sweet 16. They'll also travel to consensus No.1 North Carolina in late November for the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
"It's exciting getting a chance to play against talent like that, especially early in the year," Taylor said. "It will be an early season test and it'll definitely be fun to go play in the Dean Dome, one of the most historic arenas in the country. It will be special."
It will be just another challenge for Taylor, who enters the season as the team's unquestioned leader. A Cousy Award and Wooden Award Finalist in 2011, Taylor averaged 18.1 ppg (5th in Big Ten) and 20.1 ppg during conference, led the nation with a 3.83 assist-to-turnover ratio and shot 43 percent from 3-point range (7th in Big Ten).
During the summer, he participated in two elite point guard camps, one run by New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul and the other by New Jersey Nets guard and former Illinois standout Deron Williams. Taylor was also invited to tryout for Team USA's World University Games in China in August, but withdrew after tweaking his ankle in mid-June and having surgery on it late July.
"It's almost there," Taylor said of his right ankle. "I am trying to get better with it every day and take it stride. (Athletic Trainer Henry Perez-Guerra) and (Strength coach) Scott (Hettenbach) have done a great job helping me rehab, and without them it would probably be in worse shape. We're lucky to have those guys and they are guys that don't get a lot of credit."
Neither does Taylor. Before the Ohio State game, Taylor had scored at least 20 points in the seven times in 11 conference games, including a 30-point performance against Michigan State, but was still left off the list of 10 finalists for the Cousy Award.
He responded to that snub with his 27-point performance against Ohio State, a career-high 39 points against Indiana and stellar play at both ends of the court in the NCAA Tournament that has led many people to tab him as a preseason All-American.
Expectations are high again for Wisconsin to compete for a conference championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament for the 14th straight year. This offseason was status quo for Taylor, as his expectations haven't changed. He doesn't want to just compete, he wants to win.
"I wanted to be healthy for my senior year and try to help my team and my coaches get to a Final Four and win a Big Ten Championship, which is the ultimate goal since I have been here," he said. "With the players we have coming back and the coaches we have, including coach Ryan, we can certainly achieve that."
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