Souhan: Taylor is homecoming king in return to the Barn

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 10, 2012 - 12:08 PM

The Badgers point guard from Bloomington was the difference-maker, a Minnesotan relishing a chance to stick it to longtime friends.

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Former Benilde-St. Margaret’s star Jordan Taylor (11) enjoyed his return to Minnesota. He scored a game-high 27 points for the Badgers, including five of nine three-pointers.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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At the end, he pumped his fist, hugged a teammate, stared into a TV camera, then shook hands with all his friends and family members who had crowded the bench.

After a layover in the Wisconsin locker room, Jordan Taylor joined his coach at a news conference, then hugged his old buddy, Gophers forward Rodney Williams.

After taking the elevator down to the locker rooms, Taylor stood in front of a Minnesota basketball poster in a maroon-and-gold hallway, and uttered a phrase that should have cut the Gophers deeper than any of his quick-draw threes.

"It was good to win at home," he said.

Taylor grew up in the Twin Cities and played high school ball at Benilde-St. Margaret's, where he won a state title and auditioned for the Badgers.

Thursday, Taylor, a senior, entered his final college game in Williams Arena as the only Wisconsin player who had scored in The Barn. He hadn't scored enough, losing both of his previous games here; hadn't scored enough until he dominated Minnesota in Wisconsin's 68-61 overtime victory.

"It means something to me, it definitely does," Taylor said. "I've got a ton of family here, a ton of friends, and to win here at the Barn, it was special to me."

Some guys cut down nets after a big game; Taylor tried to smuggle splinters in his meniscus. While scoring 27 points, hitting five of his nine three-pointers and six of his seven free throws, Taylor four times in the second half threw himself onto the court after a loose ball.

It was hard to tell whether he was doing more damage to the nets, his knees or the Gophers' tournament hopes.

"We had no answer for him," Gophers coach Tubby Smith said. "That was the difference in the game, I thought, him just stepping up and making plays and taking care of the ball and running his team the right way."

Taylor was the best player on the court all night, and his conversation with Williams by the elevator after the game bespoke childhood bonds.

"He played on my grandfather's AAU team," Williams said. "I think he was in the third grade and I was in the second grade, and I used to always come to the shootaround and the practices. And the next year my grandfather finally let me start practicing with him.

"That was how it all started. He was like the first one to come up to me afterwards and talk with me and shoot around with me. He made it comfortable for me."

A second-team All-America as a junior, Taylor is finding his shot and surging midway through the Big Ten schedule. He was the conference player of the week in late January and, according to Wisconsin, is on pace to set a record for the best assist-to-turnover ratio in NCAA Division I, at 3.17.

While looking for his shot Thursday he damaged that rate, turning it over three times without recording an assist. Wisconsin needed him to score and he did, giving the Badgers a double-digit lead early in the second half and making five free throws in overtime.

So which Minnesotans will he tease first? He named Williams and injured Gophers center Trevor Mbakwe, two Twin Cities kids who signed with the Gophers.

"Rodney and Trev," Taylor said, smiling. "I told Trev we're going to beat them twice this year. We've got one and we're going to try to get the second one."

Taylor started playing games at Williams Arena when he was "nine or 10." His family knew how important this game was to him.

"I can't even count how many people I had here tonight," he said. "I had family coming up from Cleveland, Ohio, to see this one. Counting friends, I probably gave out 16 tickets, and then with all the other people who were here, it's probably 50 or 60."

That's why, after finishing a TV interview, Taylor found himself alone on the court but not in the arena. His people were here.

Of course, they've always been here.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is Souhanstrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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