UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Badgers believe in bench

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Rob Wilson, Ben Brust and Frank Kaminsky will be watching and studying. They will be taking mental notes on everything that takes place on the floor between Wisconsin and Syracuse in the early minutes of Thursday night's Sweet 16 game of the NCAA tournament.

Icon-Vandy6_sm.jpgThey will each be paying attention to the individual matchups  and all of the little details that impact runs and momentum despite not knowing for sure when they will get the call from Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan to enter the game against the Orange.

Staying ready is part of the challenge for any player who comes off the bench. Through the second and third round games - the wins over Montana and Vanderbilt - Wilson, Brust and Kaminsky are averaging 25.5, 16.5 and 4.5 minutes, respectively.

"You know that you could be called on at any time so you prepare your mind mentally that you're always ready," said Wilson, a senior, who stunned Indiana in the Big Ten tournament with 30 points in 32 minutes. He has two starts in 116 career games.

"You can learn a lot by not being out there right away," Wilson said, "because you're able to see what they're doing and you can almost figure out what their game plan is before you actually get into the game and go against it."

You can get a feel, Wilson noted, from watching how players move without the basketball on offense or handle screens on defense. Against Syracuse, which features a signature 2-3 zone, he will see if there are tendencies, especially jumping passing lanes.

"I want to know which guy is playing aggressively in their zone," said Wilson, adding that the most distinguishing characteristic of the Orange defense is the length of the players which they use to their advantage by getting deflections and creating turnovers.

"You always have to keep that in the back of your mind - that they are a lot longer than you might expect. So you have to make a lot of ball fakes and be strong with the ball. If you turn it over, there might be a dunk at the other end. They feed off that."

Understanding and accepting a bench role is key. "Our bench has been important all season and we have to keep bringing the energy," said Wilson who had 10 points against Montana but none against Vandy. "Scoring is not the only way you can contribute."

On defense, Wilson helped chase John Jenkins, who was held well under his season scoring average. He also had a couple of timely rebounds and assists without turning over the ball. That will be critical against Syracuse's ball-hawking defense.

"We haven't really faced a lot of zone this year," conceded Brust, who faced many box-and-one defenses in high school because he was such a big-time scorer. "We've played a lot of different defenses this year and we have to use that knowledge in this game."

As the opening minutes are unfolding, Brust said, "There's definitely a learning curve because you have the time to watch (from the bench) and see what's working, and what's not working and what mistakes are being made."

Brust had 11 points and four rebounds against Vanderbilt. That was the most he had scored since Jan. 26 when he had 13 against Indiana. But who's counting?  "We have a balanced attack," he said. "Everybody can shoot, dribble, pass and defend."

Kaminsky, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out some things as a true freshman. Against Montana, he played only three minutes. "I was really nervous; it's my first tournament," he said, shrugging. "But I got rid of the nerves and now I'm ready to go."

While he's waiting for his turn, Kaminsky will try to get a feel for how Syracuse is handling Berggren and then put it to use when he's in the game. "If they're closing out too hard, then go to the rim," he said. "If they're playing off of him, then shoot it."

Getting up to game speed is more difficult. "You really have to be out there," Kaminsky said. "But you can pick up on the little things that can help you. Coach (Bo Ryan) is always telling us before the game to pay attention to what you can go in and do."

Syracuse's bench outscored Kansas State, 33-0. Dion Waiters, who's viewed in most circles as the top sixth man in college basketball, had a game-high 18 points while James Southerland chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds.

How will the Badgers counter-punch? Will it be Wilson? Brust? Will it be Wilson and Brust? Kaminsky has a reasonable expectation. "Even if I have to go in and give someone a break for a couple of minutes, that's fine," he said. "We have to do what we can do to win."

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