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March 4, 2012
MADISON -- Jordan Taylor and Rob Wilson set the tone early, knocking down three outside shots in the first 5 1/2 minutes. No way were they going to be the first Wisconsin seniors to lose their final home game under Bo Ryan.
Using a balanced attack the rest of the way, the Badgers were in control throughout, holding off the Illini in the second half for a 70-56 win.
"You watch across the country on senior day, you either get [good] or you get [bad]; very rarely is it in between," Ryan said. "So I thought our guys played at a high level. They stuck to who they were and didn't get away from that. The emotion comes later, after the game's over."
Taylor had a team-high 16 points, which was matched by backcourt mate Josh Gasser. Two other Badgers -- Ryan Evans and Jared Berggren also reached double digits, while Wilson finished with eight points.
As they spread the ball around and everyone that attempted a shot from the floor made at least one, Wisconsin had one of its more efficient and high scoring games of the season. Illinois, on the other hand, had Brandon Paul put up a game-high 22 points, while Joseph Bertrand was the only other Illini scorer in double figures.
UW is at its best when spreading the scoring around, taking some of the burden off Taylor.
"Those are definitely great games when we have balanced scoring," Taylor said. "I'm pretty sure games like that all year have been our highest scoring games and probably our most efficient on offense."
But the key Sunday was Wisconsin's defensive performance. As the Illini shot just 25 percent in the first half, the Badgers limited them to just 18 points before halftime.
That first half made a big difference in the game as UW outscored Illinois by just one point (39-38) in the second half to finish with the comfortable 14-point victory. Berggren was especially impressive on defense in the game, limiting Meyers Leonard to just eight points in the game.
And all of those points came in the final 9:21 of the game.
"I've got to try to limit his touches by working to front as much as possible," Berggren said. "And then we got good help on the back side."
Ryan said the things Berggren did right Sunday were the things the Badgers have been "working on all year" with the big men down low.
"We were obviously please because that's what we had worked on," Ryan said. "Trying to develop our bigs into being better with their feet, with their positioning. We're constantly trying to teach. And they're constantly trying to learn."
While Taylor and Wilson obviously were motivated by the final opportunity to win at the Kohl Center, the rest of the Badgers were equally driven to send the pair of senior guards out with a victory.
Their collective efforts made for a memorable afternoon in Madison for Taylor and Wilson.
"It feels great. To come out here and get a win will always put the icing on the cake on senior night," Wilson said.
"What more can you ask for than to go out there and play? So you try to put the emotions all the stuff behind it aside because you always want to win instead of lose."
Added Taylor: "It was definitely kind of a surreal experience. It was fun to be out there in front of the Grateful Red one last time, and it definitely made it better to get a win."
But the seniors were not the only ones honored after Sunday's game.
Ryan picked up his 265th win with the Badgers, tying him with Bud Foster for the most wins all-time at Wisconsin. Following a brief message from UW athletic director Barry Alvarez, Ryan got an opportunity to speak.
"I want to make sure that I thank Pat Richter and Barry Alvarez, because through my years here, if you don't have help from the top, you're not going to get a lot of things done," an emotional Ryan said. "To my family also to the coaches, who made it really special. Oh yeah, and I guess we had some players get some things done over the years.
"There's an awful lot of people that went into that number that you see up there."