Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 3/17/12
In moments of chaos on the basketball court during postseason play, a steadying, influential leader with the ability to calm teammates while an entire season hangs in the balance often makes the difference between triumph and sadness. This season, Wisconsin almost always has the advantage with point guard Jordan Taylor in the lineup, despite the criticisms that have followed him along the way. Further proof of Taylor's unflappable attitude was on display Saturday, when the Badgers' sensational senior drilled the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:45 remaining, helping Wisconsin edge Vanderbilt 60-57 in the NCAA tournament's round of 32. No. 4 Wisconsin (26-9) will play No. 1 Syracuse (33-2) in an East Regional semifinal on Thursday in Boston, Mass. The Orange defeated Kansas State 75-59 in the round of 32 to advance. For much of this season, Taylor's status as a preseason All-American has been questioned because of a drop-off in his overall statistics. He averages 14.7 points per game, or 3.4 points fewer than a season ago. He is shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 35.9 percent on 3-point attempts after making 43.3 percent from the field last year and 42.0 percent on 3s. His assists-to-turnovers ratio, while still good at 2.56, doesn't lead the nation like it did a year ago at 3.83. But in the moment when Wisconsin absolutely needed Taylor to make the right decision on Saturday, he delivered with a shot that saved the Badgers' season. Taylor took a dribble to his left, just off the top of the key, and with the shot clock winding into single digits let fly a 3-pointer that helped send Wisconsin to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances for the first time in school history. So what if Taylor had connected on just 2 of 9 long-range attempts before the shot? As the Badgers' unquestioned senior leader, he had earned the right to make or break the season. Of course, Saturday's outcome didn't hinge on that single play alone. Vanderbilt's John Jenkins rose for a wide-open 3-point attempt in the final seconds that would have rendered Taylor's 3 meaningless. But Jenkins missed, the Badgers escaped, and Taylor's dagger will live on in Wisconsin lore for years. Though Taylor led the Badgers with 14 points, he received plenty of help from teammates, much like during Wisconsin's opening-round victory against Montana. Forward Ryan Evans scored 11 points, his 14th consecutive game in double figures. Center Jared Berggren added 12 points and a team-high six rebounds. Guard Ben Brust scored 11 points off the bench, and forward Mike Bruesewitz added 10 points. Now, Wisconsin can turn its attention to a Syracuse team that has shown it isn't invincible in the way many people once thought. The Orange no longer have 7-foot center Fab Melo, who will miss the NCAA tournament because of lingering academic issues. Syracuse played more like a cohesive unit against Kansas State on Saturday, but questions remain about the team's consistency. That same question shouldn't apply to Wisconsin, which won with a balanced offense and a typically staunch defensive effort that held Vanderbilt below 60 points for just the fourth time this season. If the first two games of NCAA tournament play are any indication, Wisconsin is beginning to play its best basketball of the season. Perhaps we shouldn't be so surprised that Taylor is right there leading the charge. Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.
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