Lucas at Large: Bruesewitz comfortable being put on ice

Bruesewitz on 'The Journey' Photo Gallery

MBB_120128_Bruesewitz_Mike.jpgThe standard practice of "icing" the free throw shooter takes on a whole different context with Mike Bruesewitz, who may be the only player in college basketball with ice skates in his locker.

So it evolved on Thursday night with Bruesewitz converting free throws around a timeout in the final 15 seconds to help No. 25 Wisconsin "ice" a 57-50 victory over 16th-ranked Indiana at the Kohl Center.

As a team, the Badgers went 12-of-12 from the line in the second half after knocking down only 3-of-7 free throws in the first half thereby extending a curious trend.

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Watch Bruesewitz on "The Journey 2012"
Sunday, Jan. 29 - BTN - 7 p.m. CT

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There was also a tale of two halves from the free throw line in UW's win at Illinois last Sunday: 2-of-8 in the first and 8-of-10 in the second; all of which suggests the obvious "ice water in the veins" cliche.

Bruesewitz would qualify as one of those players by birth. After all, he was born in Minnesota, the land of 10,000 outdoor hockey rinks, i.e. lakes i.e. the skates in his Kohl Center locker.

Big Ten Network was intrigued enough to film a segment on Bruesewitz for its "The Journey 2012" series, which has been chronicling many of the more unique basketball storylines in the league.

In the episode scheduled to air Sunday night at 7 p.m. (CT), Bruesewitz will be featured on the ice with a couple of UW hockey players in All-American defenseman Justin Schultz and forward Derek Lee.

Bruesewitz, Schultz and Lee have been friends since their freshman year together in the dorms.

"They were great sports to do it," Bruesewitz said.

The filming took place at Vilas Park. At one point, Lee manned the camera at ice level while Schultz and Bruesewitz skated to the net, passing the puck back and forth between them.

"I hadn't skated outdoors in a long time," Bruesewitz said.

The last time he played competitive hockey was in the seventh grade.

"My dangling (juking) skills are sub-par now," he said. "But I used to dangle back in the day."

Bruesewitz was a center iceman in youth hockey.

"When the Kohl Center ice is down, I'll probably skate six or seven times a year," he said. "It's a little different activity for me and it gets me away from everything."

"My claim to fame is that I scored on a couple of college-age goalies."

Laughing, he added, "But I won't mention any names."

However, he did drop Jordan Taylor's name in the conversation since Taylor also hails from Minnesota. The natural assumption, of course, is that everyone who grew up in the state can skate.

"Jordan tries," Bruesewitz said of UW's All-American point guard. "But he's like Louis Mendoza from (the movie) 'The Mighty Ducks.' He can skate pretty fast, but he can't stop."

Over the last 13 minutes and 24 seconds of Thursday's game, Taylor's offense was "on ice" but, despite not scoring, he did all the other critical little things to ensure success against the Hoosiers.

More telling in the long run may have been the fact that his teammates picked him up. Ben Brust and Ryan Evans each scored 10 points in the second half. Evans also finished with nine rebounds.

"We didn't have a great shooting night as a team but finding other ways to win is real encouraging," said Evans, who was only 2-of-8 from the field but 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

"My rebounding got me to the line."

Evans acknowledged that he has struggled in the first half in each of the last two home games.

"But I'm fortunate that Coach (Bo Ryan) is not giving up on me," he said. "It's very important knowing that I'm going to get a chance in the second half to turn things around, which I felt I did."

Throughout the season, Indiana's Christian Watford has hit clutch shots, including the game-winner over No. 1 ranked Kentucky. But Evans limited Watford to just six points in the second half.

"I consider myself a defensive player," Evans said, "and I kind of learn about a player throughout the game. I knew that he (Watford) was going to be aggressive at the end, so I wanted to contain him.

"I knew that he was strong to the right hand so I wanted to force him left a little bit more."

The scouting report also factored into Bruesewitz's defense on Cody Zeller. "He's one of the best freshman not only in the Big Ten but the country; one of the best big men regardless of class," he said.

For long stretches -- however long he was on the floor due to foul trouble -- Wisconsin center Jared Berggren did a terrific defensive job on Zeller and ended up with a career- high five blocked shots.

But it was the 6-foot-6 Bruesewitz who checked the 6-11 Zeller down the stretch.

"I just wanted to make sure he had to work as hard as possible to get the ball," Bruesewitz said. "That's always been my M.O., especially in post-defense being a little undersized.

"Sometimes it helps that I can duck under those bigger guys and get in front of them and work a little harder than them. My whole thought process was to make him work.

"I wanted to make him do something he wasn't comfortable doing. We had watched a lot of film on Zeller. Watching him go against Jared, he did a lot of countering, especially on the baseline."

One of the key possessions of the game revolved around Bruesewitz' post defense on Zeller. With the Badgers protecting a 53-50 lead, Zeller missed a short jump hook and Taylor rebounded.

"I thought he might go baseline," Bruesewitz said. "I told everybody afterward if he would have continued to the middle, he probably would have had a dunk or a layup. But he countered."

Thanks to that aforementioned scouting report -- "Our coaches do a great job letting us know all that stuff" -- Bruesewitz was ready for Zeller's counter move. Standing tall, he forced a difficult shot.

At the opposite end, Bruesewitz then pulled down an offensive rebound. Although he was all alone under the basket -- Zeller had fallen down -- he took the ball back outside and got fouled.

"I'm not quite sure how he ended up on his butt," said Bruesewitz, clearing his throat. Wink, wink. "But Watford was behind me and there was a lot of traffic. I didn't know where everybody was.

"My whole through process there was to get it out and try to run some clock. I almost turned the ball over. But luckily I got it back as soon as I lost it and I got to the free throw line."

That would not be a cause for celebration this season, since Bruesewitz was shooting 53 percent from the line in Big Ten games. But he claimed that was an aberration, not a sign of things to come.

Validating that thinking, he went 4-of-4 against the Hoosiers.

"The free throw line is all about mental toughness and confidence," said Bruesewitz. "It's just repetition. I know that I'm a good free throw shooter. It just hasn't shown."

To get back on track, he has been staying after practice to shoot 50 to 100 free throws. Before Thursday morning's shoot-around, he also got on the floor early to work on his stroke and rhythm.

In the second half, Bruesewitz and his teammates drew nothing but net, and cheers.

"Personally I feed off the crowd," Evans said. "That was huge for me and the team."

"The crowd was amped and got here early," Bruesewitz said. "I don't think a lot of people around here like Indiana too much.

"I know it was really fun to have a rocking Kohl Center."
ON WISCONSIN