MADISON - With just five games left in the regular season, the Wisconsin men's basketball team is hoping to close out its portion of the schedule with a bang. Currently, with four losses in conference play, the Badgers sit alone in third place behind Ohio State and Purdue respectively.
Though a regular season crown may be out of reach for the Badgers, there is still plenty to play for as March looms just around the corner. Hoping to learn a little more about the current state of the team, BadgerBlitz.com took some time to catch up with assistant coach Lamont Paris.
The following is a question and answer with the first-year UW assistant.
In your eyes, how is Jordan Taylor holding up? Is he feeling strong and is he looking strong to you?
Paris: Yeah, he looks good. The way he bounced back in that Ohio State game from, you know, he had a couple days where he was tired and fatigued a little bit, but I think he's holding up really well. We've been cognizant about trying to maybe get him out at the game maybe right before the breaks. That way we only lose 10 seconds of game time, but he actually gets three or four minutes of rest.
He's holding up well. He's a strong kid in great condition. Of all the kids I would worry about the fatigue factor with, he's probably one where I wouldn't worry much about. But it's a long season for everybody.
Especially when you start getting to the Big Ten tournament when you're playing two, three games in a row. It's a legit concern. Are you guys limiting him in practice or anything?
Paris: I don't know that. We did that earlier in the year, too, when we went down to Orlando and played three games in a row. It's good preparation for the NCAA tournament. At this point I think we've done what we've needed to do as far as conditioning at the early part of the season and maintaining that throughout the season. Now, guys are hopefully at their strongest. Now they're on adrenaline in games.
You've been around a number of teams but I don't know if you've been around one that's had so much success following a loss as this one does. What is it? What goes into that? I believe it's been 18 or 19 in a row that you guys have won after a loss.
Paris: A lot of that is just the culture that's been developed here. It's just unacceptable. Nobody ever talks about it. It's not like we say, 'Hey, we just lost. We've got to come out and win this one.' It's just understood within the ranks that it's unacceptable to lose again so you've got to come back and make sure, especially if it's a home game in particular. There's something within the guys that just doesn't allow them to lose another one. Not to say it couldn't happen, but there's something within. They're playing inspired.
Does that start with Bo Ryan? Is it unique to this team?
Paris: I think so. There are some teams, you know, when I was with Keith Dambrot at Akron we never lost three in a row during his whole tenure when I was there. This is something different that we're talking about as far as bouncing back and not getting two in a row. I think it definitely starts from the top and coach Ryan's ability to pinpoint what it was in that game that didn't allow us to have success and then really target that for the next game or whatever it might be.
Whether it's something basketball related or something more related to your mental status at the time you're preparing for that game. Whatever it is he targets it and we work on it in that one, two or three days before we play again. We've been able to improve in that area.
Just kind of jumping around here, but I'm just curious. When you play a team for the second time as you will against Penn State, how much time in film do you study looking what happened the first time against them or is it more about what's happened recently between both teams?
Paris: It's a little bit of everything. It's about how you're playing no matter who you're playing against. You always want to try to improve on what you're doing. Then you also want to definitely spend some time looking at what they did that they had success against you during that game. Then of course you're going to look at what they're doing in general.
The trends may change, the personnel - they may be playing a guy a little bit more than they were - the starting lineup may change or whatever. So you're going to pay attention to that stuff and you're going to pay attention to what they did that first game and make adjustments. But for the most part you're going to worry about internally what your team is doing.
Speaking of Penn State, if there is one thing that you'd say stuck out the most in the loss from a few weeks ago that you guys need to clear up, what would it be?
Paris: I don't know. I think one thing that they did was that they made shots, especially in the second half and especially with Talor Battle. It's not like it was a surprise that he would make shots but he made a bunch of shots in the second half. The one thing that we could work on was really having an emphasis on having a consistent performance against him defensively.
In the first half he didn't really have as many shots. But in the second half he had some more open looks and then he felt good about himself. So then he was making the ones that weren't open or out of his normal range. A good player like that, when he feels really good about himself, it doesn't matter if you have a hand in the face. We've got to make a concerted effort to not let him get going at all, even in the second half.
Did you watch that game the other night when they played Minnesota? He had seven three's. Is he reliant on the three?
Paris: Well, in that game, and he even said something about it at the end during the interview. They were really taking away going to the basket. He's a multi-dimensional scorer on the offensive end. I think he's good enough of a player, you know how many points he's scored in his career.
I think this was his third 500-point season. He's going to find a way, whether you're giving him the three or closing out on the three and he can get in and penetrate gaps and get into the lane. He's a very good player, he's very quick and he's good physically. He's going to take what you can give him and try to exploit that. I don't think he's necessarily relying on the three, but if you give him some of those he's been making the three-ball.
Kind of going back to Jordan here and tying it in to Talor Battle. You watch Taylor against Demetri McCamey and some of these stronger guards and he seems to be very comfortable. Does he, maybe not struggle because he's obviously playing very well, but maybe have some fits with some of these smaller guys like Lewis Jackson and Talor Battle?
Paris: I don't know. Maybe. It's not necessarily that because what we're doing, it's not like with Talor Battle or Lewis Jackson we're just coming down one-on-one with Jordan Taylor. I don't think that is it. Our defense is centered around five guys guarding one guy and paying attention to the ball anyway. In reality it may be that we didn't do as good a job as a unit as far as handling the ball screen.
If you look at Lewis Jackson and how he scored it was rarely just a one-on-one, shake-you-down and shoot it. There were a couple of those in there, but again, at that time he was feeling really good about himself so a good player is going to be able to do that from time to time. Jordan has done it to some guys once he starts feeling good.
A lot of it was handling that ball screen, whether it was a flat ball screen, side ball screen or whatever. Handling that properly and getting the guys in position to contest shots so that they don't get off to a really good start so I don't know that it's the quickness of the guard that would affect Jordan specifically. Maybe our ball screen defense has struggled against it.
I remember talking to you a couple of weeks ago and we were talking about having a fourth scorer. It doesn't necessarily have to be one guy every time, but it seems like over the past two or three weeks that there's been a consistent fourth scorer whether it's Josh Gasser or Ryan Evans against Purdue the other night. That's got to be encouraging.
Paris: Oh yeah, it definitely is. In order for you to make a really, really good run you're going to need that. Guys are going to key and they're going to have schemes that they're going to try to take certain things away from Jordan and Jon Leuer and even from Keaton Nankivil. You can see that already. Guys are flying at him and they're not letting him have threes. They're making him put it on the floor, which is not what he does best.
So therefore you need a guy like Mike Bruesewitz to make a couple of shots or Josh or Tim Jarmusz to make a three when you need it. That, I think, will be very important for us as we go into the conference tournament even into the NCAA tournament. To have those guys, and it doesn't matter who it is if it's Ryan Evans or whoever, whoever is ready to go on that day, not even ready to go, but has those opportunities and takes advantage of those opportunities on that day are really what we need to make a good, long run.
When you watch a team on film can you kind of pick out which one of those role players that could potentially expose what the other team likes to do?
Paris: Sometimes you can, sometimes. For example, if there is a team that is going to offer you a lot more perimeter jump shots maybe it won't be Ryan Evans that game. It's not always easy to tell how it's going to be. For example, Mike has the same or similar shots that he had in the Purdue game as he did in the Ohio State game. In the Ohio State game they went down and in the Purdue game they didn't.
So maybe it was someone else opportunity to step in there and make those shots in that game. There may be a team scheme that you could say, well, maybe this will be a game where Mike or Ryan could do better. But for the most part it's whoever plays better that day between those guys. Whoever is going to make those shots and feels confident in themselves and takes advantage of the situation.