ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — All-America point guard Jordan Taylor struggled a little bit for Wisconsin during the regular season. Not so in the NCAA tournament.
The senior, who settled for lower numbers across the board as he incorporated three new starting forwards into the lineup scored 17 points, dished out six assists and pulled down eight rebounds in the Badgers’ 73-49 rout of Montana in the East Regional on Thursday.
Ryan Evans, who benefited greatly from Taylor’s unselfish play and mentoring, led Wisconsin with 18 points and had eight boards.
Evans had 14 points in the first half as the fourth-seeded Badgers built a double-digit lead that the Grizzlies couldn’t erase.
The Badgers (25-9) improved to 10-1 in NCAA tournament openers under Bo Ryan, the winningest coach in the program’s history.
Wisconsin will face the Vanderbilt-Harvard winner Saturday at the Pit.
Art Steward’s 18 points led the Grizzles (25-7), who were familiar with the Badgers’ style because one of their assistants, Freddie Owens, played at Wisconsin from 2001-04. But his inside information couldn’t help the Grizzlies pull off the upset.
Montana was riding a school-record 14-game winning streak, having already established its best record in two decades. The team’s last loss was Jan. 14 at Weber State, the same squad it wiped out by 19 in the Big Sky title game.
But the 13th-seeded Grizzlies only held two leads against the bigger, badder Badgers — 2-0 and 5-2 on Derek Selvig’s 3-pointer, which was quickly matched by a 3 from Josh Gasser, who scored 12 points.
Evans averaged 10.9 points in the regular season and topped that in the first half when his 14 points helped the Badgers to a 39-29 halftime cushion.
Wisconsin, making its 14th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, raced out to a 14-7 lead when Evans swished his first four shots, including a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
Neither team appeared bothered by jitters or the mile-high altitude even though both played the grind-it-out style that Wisconsin relishes. The first timeout didn’t come until the 13:29 mark because there were no whistles to stop play for the 16-minute TV break.
The Grizzlies kept getting good looks at the basket but they were no match for the more athletic Badgers in the paint most of the time. Jared Berggren swatted away four shots in the first half and three more in the second.
By the second half, something was brewing in the Pit. No, not the Grizzlies, but a tea kettle on media row opposite the Badgers’ bench, the steam from Westwood One’s pot wafting across the laptops of The Associated Press, USA Today and ESPN.
Mathias Ward sank two free throws and a 3-pointer and Will Cherry hit another 3 to cut Wisconsin’s 16-point lead to 48-38, but the Badgers called timeout and then outscored Montana 25-11 the rest of the way.
The Grizzles shot just 38 percent, including 29 percent after halftime, against the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, which was allowing 52.9 points per game.
Rob Wilson added 10 points for the Badgers, continuing his hot streak over the last month.
This season, Wisconsin had to replace three senior forwards who went on to play pro ball — Jon Leuer (18.3-point average), Keaton Nankivil (9.7) and Tim Jarmusz (3.9). They were experienced, terrific perimeter shooters.
Taylor often had open lanes to the hoop with Leuer and Nankivil setting high picks and opponents reluctant to double-team him for fear he’d kick it back out for an uncontested 3.
This season, Taylor, one of just two seniors on the roster, had to bring along three new starters in juniors Evans, Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz, who combined to average 26.9 points.
Copyright 2012 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.