Jon Leuer wanted to make sure everybody understood that his return to the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team just in time to play against his homestate team, Minnesota, was purely coincidental.

"It had no bearing on whether I was going to be back or not," said Leuer, a native of Long Lake, Minn., who rejoined the Badgers on Monday after missing nine games while mending a broken bone in his left wrist.

But there's no doubt the No. 14 Badgers (19-6, 9-4) could use the talented 6-foot-10 Leuer against the tall and rangy Gophers (14-10, 5-7) in a Big Ten Conference game at Williams Arena on Thursday night.

The Gophers are in a bit of a tailspin while losing three of their last four games, but they have the potential to create havoc in the paint -- much like Illinois did during its 63-56 win over the Badgers on Feb. 9 at the Kohl Center.

The Badgers scored just six points in the paint and attempted just nine free throws against the Illini. The latter number has been a growing trend for the Badgers, who average the fewest number of free throws per game (13.5) in the Big Ten this season.

Leuer averaged 3.9 free throw attempts per game before he got hurt. Only senior guard Trevon Hughes and Taylor averaged more at that time. None of the other forwards have come close to picking up slack during Leuer's absence.

In the past nine games, junior forward Keaton Nankivil attempted 14 free throws, redshirt freshman forward Ryan Evans attempted two and freshman forward Mike Bruesewitz none.

"Hopefully with Jon there, we will get to the free-throw line more," said sophomore guard Jordan Taylor. "As guards, we have to attack. Even without Jon, we have to try to get to the free-throw line more."

Minnesota needs senior guard Lawrence Westbrook to get to the line more, too. He has attempted just 23 free throws in 12 Big Ten games. He was much better last year against the Badgers, when he attempted -- and made -- 14 free throws during the Gophers' two victories.

Westbrook was the difference maker in the series. He averaged 22 points and made 58.3 percent of his shots. This year, he leads the Gophers in scoring with a 13.8 average. He is making 48.8 percent of his shots and 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers.

"We're not the only team he has scored against," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard. "He was able to get some confidence going and made things happen last year. They got some offense from their defense, where we helped them in some situations. He also made some tough shots at times."

The pressing Gophers lead the Big Ten in steals and blocks and are ranked second in the Big Ten in forcing turnovers. The Badgers lead the Big Ten in fewest turnovers committed.

Something has to give, and Leuer might just be the wild card to turn the tide in the Badgers' favor in an arena where they have won five times in their last seven trips.

Senior guard Jason Bohannon can see it happening again.

"When you get him back and having him take the pressure off the guards and having him take a big guy out of the paint a little bit because he's hitting open 3s, that's really tough on a defense," said Bohannon.

Leuer, meanwhile, continued to dismiss the timing of his return as purely coincidental. "The only thing that we were worried about was if I would be healthy," he said. "We didn't want to have any doubts going into it. We don't now."




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