Vanderbilt-Wisconsin Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 16, 2012
Wisconsin senior Rob Wilson wasn't on anybody's radar a month ago, save for the kids at the Madison Boys & Girls Club where he's serving an internship this semester. Now, Vanderbilt star Jeffery Taylor calls him the ''X-factor'' in the Commodores' third-round game Saturday against the Badgers in the NCAA tournament's East Regional. ''He came out of nowhere and started making a lot of great plays for those guys,'' Taylor said. Late last month, Wilson's career scoring average was a dispiriting 2.4 points, but he couldn't put the ball in the basket if he couldn't get on the court, and he wasn't mastering coach Bo Ryan's intricate defense to earn those minutes. Then, one day it all clicked for the late-blooming Badger, and his defensive play at practice earned him more playing time. He scored 11 points at Iowa on Feb. 23, beginning a startling seven-game stretch in which he's averaged 11.1 points and 24 minutes after averaging 2.3 points and 9.5 minutes to that point. The pinnacle came against Indiana in the Big Ten tournament, when he scored 30 points - more than double his previous career high of 13 - and tied a school record with seven 3-pointers. He chipped in 10 points in 28 minutes in the fourth-seeded Badgers' drubbing of Montana in their NCAA tournament opener. ''He's become a huge part of why we're a No. 4 seed, why we're here and I'm just so proud of him,'' forward Mike Bruesewitz said. ''I gave him probably the biggest hug I ever gave anybody after the Ohio State game just because he played so well at Ohio State in front of his family. And after the 30-point game, same thing, gave him a big hug. ''I'm incredibly proud, seeing him work so hard and not quit just because things weren't going his way.'' Wilson's slashing dimension and knack for knocking down outside shots has turbocharged Wisconsin's deliberate offense and could come in handy Saturday night against the more experienced Commodores, whose starters have 451 career starts to Wisconsin's 265. ''From what I can see on tape is he gives them another scorer, obviously experienced because of his age, and some athleticism,'' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. ''He has the ability to drive the ball to the basket as well as break loose for a bunch of 3s like he did on senior night. ''So that's a great weapon to have coming off your bench when you have a guy that can come in and change the game a little bit athletically and also change it from a 3-point perspective.'' Wilson's No. 33 came up aplenty when the fifth-seeded Commodores went over the game plan Friday. ''We have to do a really good job of limiting his attempts, limiting the way he can potentially hurt us, which is shooting, making 3-point shots, making open shots,'' Taylor said. ''So, he'll be the key to the game, and we're looking forward to the challenge.'' Wilson's emergence has also had a psychological impact on his teammates. All-America point guard Jordan Taylor calls him a ''morale booster.'' ''I think everybody in the locker room has been really happy to see Rob get it going the way he has,'' Taylor said. ''But it's obviously been big in games where other people struggled, myself or anybody else that struggled, especially in the Indiana game. It's been big. It's been great to see him step up.'' So, what got into Wilson? Nobody seems to know, not even Wilson. ''I think it just started clicking,'' he said with a shrug. ''It just happened.'' There was no epiphany, no one moment anyone can point to. ''I don't know, it just kind of clicked one day,'' Bruesewitz said. ''It couldn't have come at a better time, though.'' Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said maybe Wilson just looked at the calendar one day and realized time was running out on his dream. ''I think sometimes when a senior knows the clock is ticking, things get a little bit more in focus,'' Gard said. ''He's a guy that's persevered, just kept working, didn't get as much playing time as he wanted early in his career but he never whined, he never complained. He kept working and if there's a poster child for perseverance and hard work and just keep fighting and battling and scrapping and good things will happen to you, he's obviously it.'' Nobody seems interested in deciphering the mystery anyway. They're just embracing the turnaround. ''He deserves it,'' sophomore guard Josh Gasser said. ''He's worked his tail off. He's stuck with it.'' Gard said Wilson has stayed grounded through it all, too. ''Coach Ryan has gained more and more confidence in him, which has given him more and more opportunities and to Rob's credit, he hasn't gone overboard, either, and tried to force too much and make up for 3 1/2 years in three weeks,'' Gard said. ''He's stayed within himself, he's taken shots when they're there. He's become a better defender.'' When he graduates in May with a degree in human ecology and leadership studies, Wilson will know all his hard work finally paid off. ''I can always look back on that Indiana game and tell my kids one day that I scored 30 points,'' he said. He paused, as if catching himself bragging. ''But it's just 30 points, I guess.'' It meant the world to those around him. ''As a player, you want to have stuff to look back on,'' Gasser said. ''He needed that moment, and he finally got it.'' --- Follow AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter:
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