Standing in the hallway outside of the visitors’ locker room at the Crisler Center, dejected Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor fielded questions following his team’s 59-41 loss to Michigan on Sunday.
The Wolverines’ freshman point guard Trey Burke had just completed his media rounds and pushed his way through the swarm surrounding Taylor. On his way through, he reached past the crowd and extended a closed fist to his senior counterpart.
Taylor acknowledged, pounded his fist and gave Burke the courtesy head nod — a tip of the hat of sorts to the youngster who helped Michigan snap a 10-game losing streak to the Badgers. It was a pair of the best point guards in Division I sharing an appreciation for each other’s game.
“No disrespect to (former Michigan point guard) Darius (Morris), but he almost makes them better,” Taylor said of Burke. “He just does some things, maybe he knocks down shots a little better than Darius.”
Before Morris declared for the 2011 NBA draft, analysts and fans were excited for this year’s Michigan-Wisconsin matchup because of the potential Morris-Taylor showdown at the point guard position. The two were widely expected to be the top floor generals in the Big Ten, and a couple of the best in the nation.
But even with Morris’ departure, the matchup was plenty hyped. Just last week, Burke and Taylor were named top-20 finalists for the Bob Cousy award, given at the end of the season to the top point guard in the country. Ohio State’s Aaron Craft was the only other point man in the conference to receive the honor.
Last week, Burke made it very clear to his coaches that he intended to stick with Taylor on the defensive end.
“Yeah, I wanted to guard him,” Burke said after the game. “The way he uses his body around the rim … uses his pivot foot to find anyone else when he’s in the lane, he has some good qualities about his game.
“He’s definitely one of the top point guards I’ve played against. … I respect him a lot.”
Though Burke didn’t shoot exceptionally well, going 6-for-15 from the field, he still finished with a solid 14 points and never backed down when Taylor pressured him at the top of the key.
About midway through the second half, Burke snagged a loose ball on the defensive end and pushed the ball in transition against the lone man who was ready for the Badger defense — guess who, Jordan Taylor. Burke never hesitated and drove right at Taylor, scoring over him and picking up the and-one.
“In the second half, when I was taking him, I knew that he was going to try and strip me again, so I tried to keep him on my side as much as possible,” Burke said. “I knew he was going to try and strip me, and he fouled me. I kept the ball up.”
But more impressive than Burke’s offense against Taylor was his defense. Last season, Taylor scored 20 points in each of his games against the Wolverines. On Sunday, he tallied just 12 on 5-of-15 shooting, rarely finding open looks against Michigan’s stout defense.
Moreover, prior to Sunday’s contest, Taylor had turned the ball over just 57 times in 57 career conference games. But Burke and the Wolverine defense forced three turnovers from the veteran.
“Credit to Jordan Taylor — he is a tremendous player,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “For Trey to go out and play and take on that challenge, it’s a great step for our program. (Burke) is getting better. … We’re really trying to simplify this defense and what he has to do.”
And Beilein, in particular, should be grateful to Burke for handling the assignment effectively. Before Sunday, the coach was 0-9 against Wisconsin over his first four seasons at the helm, and the streak was snapped due in large part to his young stud playing beyond his years.