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Lucas at Large: Q, as in quality minutes

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On Wednesday, Wquinton Smith was Indiana's Verdell Jones.

On Friday, Wquinton Smith was Northwestern's Michael Thompson.

Between these two scout team assignments he received the ultimate reward.

Q_NC_State.jpgOn Thursday, Wquinton Smith got some playing time as Wquinton Smith.

He didn't disappoint, either.

Coming off the bench, Smith responded with some quality minutes in Wisconsin's 69-60 victory over Indiana at the Kohl Center. His biggest contribution came in the first half when the Badgers needed a spark after falling behind 14-6 to the Hoosiers, who got 10 straight points from Jordan Hulls.

Following the first media timeout, Smith entered the game expecting to check Hulls. "I was mainly sent in to break his confidence a little,'' said Smith, a senior walk-on from Milwaukee Rufus King. "I wanted to make sure I chased him as hard as I could and he didn't get any shots.''

The irony is that the Hoosiers substituted for Hulls, who got a short rest.

Smith, meanwhile, didn't waste any time proving that he belonged on the floor.

Looking back, Mike Bruesewitz was a "4" playing like a "3" which added up to a "2."

Two rebounds in three games.

What wasn't he doing? "I wasn't beating people up inside," he said.

Moving forward, Jared Berggren wants to play like a starter as a backup.

Despite coming off his first career start.

Berggren_2011_MSU.jpgWhat does he need to be doing? "I need to be more consistent," he said.

Bruesewitz and Berggren have identified their roles and what they have to do to earn more minutes for the Badgers. Now they have to go out and do it starting Thursday night against Indiana at the Kohl Center. They both know that has to be the blue print whether they're starting or not.

"I've got to do a lot of the little things that kind of got away from me there for a couple of games," said Bruesewitz, a sophomore from St. Paul, Minn. "I was kind of floating on the perimeter a little bit - not being tough and physical inside - which has kind of been my staple.

"Since I've been here, I've been able to get inside and knock a few people around and make bodies fly a little bit and get some offensive rebounds. That's what got me minutes last year - being a tough kid inside, beating people up, stuff like that. I have to get back to that a little bit more."

As a freshman, Bruesewitz had rebounding spurts where he would come off the bench and trigger a run with his energy and tenacity. He had five rebounds in four minutes at Michigan State. He had five rebounds in six minutes against Purdue. He had seven rebounds against Arizona and Indiana.

Through this season's first three Big Ten games - combined - he had two rebounds; both in a loss at Illinois. He was blanked on the glass against Minnesota (16 minutes) and Michigan (13 minutes). He had two rebounds at Michigan State but he played a season-low 12 minutes.

Bruesewitz_2011_Illinois.jpg"I stepped back and looked (at what I was doing) and talked to a couple of the coaches," Bruesewitz said. "My minutes went down and we had conversations. And they said one thing you're really not doing is rebounding the ball as well as you can, and should be. That was an eye-opener."

In the UW's win over Illinois, he had four rebounds in 20 minutes. "I felt like I was getting back to more what I know I'm really good at doing," Bruesewitz said. "I really wasn't getting on the glass as much as I should have and or I'm capable of. That's one big area I've tried to emphasize."

After 13 straight starts, he has been coming off the bench the last three games. That has allowed him to get more of a feel for the tempo or the flow before stepping on the floor. Lately, he also has been utilized more as a "4" (power forward) than a "3" (small forward).

"Because I was playing the "3" so much," he said, "and we were playing some teams that were trying to push the ball more, I was making sure I was getting back on defense for the shooters."

 Bruesewitz added that if he couldn't get a "two-handed" rebound he was sprinting back to the other end because "we're better five-on-five than we are in a transition defense, three-on-two."

Upon further review, he knows what he has to do to be a more consistent and effective contributor. Beyond the staples - beating people up inside and making bodies fly - it revolves around "knocking down an open shot when I have one, getting on the boards and playing defense."

Over the last few weeks, Berggren has learned more about himself, too. After playing just three minutes against Michigan and six minutes against Michigan State, he got his first career start last Saturday against Illinois. He had two points, four rebounds, an assist and a block in 15 minutes.

Berggren didn't make a big deal out of his first start. Not to the degree that his family and friends did. "Obviously, I was happy to be starting," he said. "The thing I liked about it most was I knew when I'd be playing. Sitting on the bench, you have that excitement or anxiety waiting to check in."

Berggren, a redshirt sophomore from Princeton, Minn., has played 10 or more minutes only six times. "When I do get an opportunity to come into the game, I have to make some plays right away," he said. "I have to limit my mistakes and add to what the team has going as soon as I step on the floor."

He has tried to focus on being more consistent and aggressive. "If I come in and I'm tentative early," he said, "Coach may be more hesitant to put me back in the game later. But If I come in and make plays and show that I'm comfortable, I think I'd be more likely to get more playing time."

So much is predicated on the matchups. "Illinois had a lot of bigs and it was a better matchup when we could put Jon (Leuer) at the 3-spot,'" Berggren said. "It's different from game to game."

But he can control one thing from day-to-day - maybe the most important thing in the big picture. And that is? "Coming ready to work every day in practice and trying to improve," he said.

That also applies to Bruesewitz, whether he's being threatened or not by UW coach Bo Ryan to cut his bushy hair if his production doesn't pick up. It's all done in a joking manner. And, for now, he has no plans on getting it cut. "I'm getting it trimmed in a couple of weeks, but nothing too major," he said.

The mop-topped Zach Morley was also given some wiggle room by Ryan who's well aware of the historical ramifications associated with Sampson (Ralph Sr. and Ralph III notwithstanding).

The Voice: Win or lose, Badgers know how to move on

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The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgRather quietly, the Wisconsin men's basketball team has done something that is very hard to do. While it might not be the sexiest statistic in sports, it might go a long way in explaining why this team has enjoyed a great deal of success under Bo Ryan.

What stat might that be? Losing streaks, and how the Badgers tend to avoid them.  

This is Ryan's 10th year on the job, and only nine times has he seen his teams lose two or more games in a row. Three seasons they went the distance without dropping consecutive games.  

As for this season, so far so good. In fact, it has been almost two calendar years since Wisconsin has had a losing streak. It has won its last 18 games following a loss.

So how do the Badgers do it? I can't tell you how many times I get that question from fellow media members and representatives from other schools.

A couple of reasons come to mind. First, Ryan's teams follow a time-honored coaching philosophy -- it is more important to minimize mistakes than it is to make spectacular plays (Bob Knight talks about that a lot ... for those who do not remember, he was a pretty good coach).

Second, Ryan stresses "next," as in the next game. He stresses keeping on an even keel, which can be easier said than done. What goes on in a team meeting is the team's business, but in observing hundreds of practices, one would have a hard time knowing whether the Badgers are coming off a win or a loss.

NBA TV has been running a roundtable show featuring Hall of Famers Bob Lanier, Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Julius Irving. When talking about his approach to the game, "Dr. J" said he wanted to "win without boasting, and lose without crying." "If you chew on that one," said Irving "it's going to keep you in a good place that helps you maintain your sanity, while all the madness is going on around you."

To be fair, the Doctor was talking about the grind of an NBA season, but much the same can apply to a college season.

After last Tuesday's overtime loss at Michigan State, fans wondered how the Badgers would respond against a very talented Illinois squad.

When the home team missed its first 11 shots from 3-point range, the wonder may have turned into doubt. Yet, here comes Tim Jarmusz, hitting a 3 at the end of the half, then Keaton Nankivil drops three more from distance, Jon Leuer scores 26 points and the Badgers win by 10.

When the horn sounded, the players smiled, shook hands with the opponent, did their media interviews, then left the building, knowing the head coach would soon turn everyone's attention to "next."

Of course last Tuesday's loss to the Spartans hurt. Since the Badgers rarely allow a late lead to slip away, it hurts even more. But guess what? It happens. Last Saturday, six teams in the AP Top 25 had to rally from double-digit deficits. The most notable was Louisville's comeback from being down by 18 to stun Marquette.  

In sports, maybe especially in sports such as basketball, hockey and baseball, there is not enough time for players and coaches to sulk after a tough loss. The next game usually comes up quickly.

Eventually, the Badgers will lose consecutive games again, but the fact they have gone this long without that happening says a ton about their makeup.

Maybe without even knowing it, they have done a great job of following Dr. J's rule of "win without boasting, and lose without crying."

Win or lose, they just keep preparing for "next."

Lucas at Large: Huxtable happy to be back in Madison

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The last time Dave Huxtable was in Madison, he couldn't go home because of Hurricane Frances. This time around, Huxtable plans on unpacking his bags and making himself at home.

Bret Bielema's first game as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator and linebacker coach coincided with Huxtable's only game as Central Florida's acting head coach and linebacker assistant.

That was during the 2004 season opener at Camp Randall Stadium.

Bielema was taking over the UW defense from Kevin Cosgrove, while Huxtable was subbing for George O'Leary, who left the Knights to attend the funeral of his mother in Central Islip, N.Y.

UCF put up a pretty competitive fight - it was a 10-3 game until the closing minutes of the first half - before succumbing to the Badgers, 34-6; marking Barry Alvarez's 100th career victory.

Bielema's defense controlled the line of scrimmage with 10 TFLs and four quarterback sacks, while limiting the Knights to a couple of field goals and just 230 yards of total offense.

Huxtable remembered chatting with Alvarez on the field during the warm-ups. And he remembered the game-day atmosphere and the "enthusiasm'' and "energy'' in Camp Randall.

He also remembered the team's visit was extended because of the dangerous storms in Florida.

Bielema must have remembered Huxtable, because their paths have crossed again.

Lucas at Large: Do you remember when?

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Do you remember when ...

UW coach Bo Ryan instructed his two best scorers, Alando Tucker and Mike Wilkinson, to anticipate a missed shot, an offensive rebound, and a put-back to win a Big Ten game?

It happened on March 1, 2005 at the Kohl Center.

The opponent was the Indiana Hoosiers, who will be here Thursday night.

Tucker_Alando_IND_0506_2.jpgGoing into the game, the Badgers and the Hoosiers were tied for third place in the conference standings. Both were looking to enhance their NCAA resume and seeding.

The UW players were running on empty - physically and emotionally - despite coming off a 64-56 victory at Ohio State. Tucker and Wilkinson combined for 33 points and 16 rebounds to spoil the festivities for the Buckeyes who retired John Havlicek's number (No. 5) at halftime.

The Indiana game was Wisconsin's third in six days - a challenging Thursday-Sunday-Tuesday stretch that also included a 77-64 loss at Michigan State. The fatigue started to show in the second half against the Hoosiers who rallied from a 10-point deficit behind the strong play of freshman D.J. White.

With 9:35 left in the game, a Sharif Chambliss jumper pushed the Badgers into a 53-43 lead. But they opened the door for an IU comeback by missing their next 10 shots from the field and compounded their frustration from the free throw line, where they were 7-for-14 over the final 7:15.

Indiana's Roderick Wilmont rebounded Bracey Wright's missed shot and scored on a put-back to pull the Hoosiers into a 60-60 tie. Ryan called a timeout with 10.1 seconds remaining. What was said? Ryan told Tucker that he was going to rebound a miss and score the game-winner.

"He actually did say that,'' Tucker later confirmed. "He (Ryan) told me, 'If there's a missed shot, I want you to attack the glass hard.' I guess it played out the way he wanted.''

Not quite. Coming out of the timeout, Tucker launched a 3-point shot that came up short. Following Ryan's advice about anticipating a miss, Wilkinson got the offensive rebound. But he was nearly pinned under the rim and sandwiched by a couple of defenders. That led to an awkward shot.

Now it was Tucker's turn to anticipate.

"I saw they were trying to force Mike more toward the baseline and out of bounds,'' Tucker said. "I was looking to see which side he was going to try to put it up and with which hand. I actually saw him release it and I was like, 'Ok, this is coming out (funny), so I'm going to go up and get it.''

Tucker got it and scored the game-winner with two-tenths of a second left.

Wisconsin 62, Indiana 60.

"Sometimes I wonder if he (Ryan) drew it up like that,'' Tucker said. "I wonder if he knew it was going to happen like that. He's been doing this for a long time and he called it.''

In a perfect world, Ryan would have preferred if Tucker would have attacked the rim instead of settling for an early 3-pointer. But he wasn't complaining, especially after foreshadowing the sequence.

"That's the only time all night that anybody ever listened to me,'' Ryan said of his instructions to anticipate the missed shot. "I told the guys afterward at least someone listened to me one time.''

The timing couldn't have been better for a UW team that finished with an 11-5 Big Ten record despite the early departure of Devin Harris who skipped his final year to enter the NBA. The Badgers continued to overachieve in the postseason by advancing to the Elite Eight in the 2005 NCAA tourney.

Ryan was understandably proud of the accomplishments. "I thought our guys have done a very good job hiding weaknesses,'' he said, "covering up for one another and helping each other out.''

Since that dramatic two-point win over the Hoosiers, the Badgers have won the last four home games against Indiana by an average of 21 points, the closest margin of victory being 13 points.

The Voice: Breaking into the biz

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgOne aspect of my profession I have grown to appreciate is those who do their jobs extremely well without the "hey, look at me" mentality that can be too common in the media industry. 

With that in mind, I say congratulations to the Wisconsin Sportswriter and Sportscaster of the Year winners for 2010, Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal and Dennis Krause of Time Warner Cable, the Milwaukee Bucks and Green Bay Packers radio networks.

Having known both "Mully" and Dennis for awhile, it is great to see these two true professionals recognized by their peers. Both have won the award before, and with good reason. They do their work with class, and fellow state media types have recognized their efforts.

It is one thing to be noticed. It is another to earn and sustain respect. They are two examples of what is good about the sports media.

While I am at it, add one more honor for legendary Brewers announcer Bob Uecker, who finally was elected into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Uecker will join Brent Musberger as the latest inductees. And you thought Bob already was in every hall of fame.  I think this should about do it, but you never know for sure.

I transition from state winners and hall of famers to last week's hot media story--Ted Williams, aka, The Golden Voice. In a matter of a few days, Williams went from the streets of Columbus, Ohio, seemingly down and out, to a nationwide sensation.

As you probably know, a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch "discovered" Williams by putting him on a video that went viral. All of a sudden, Williams was on my old radio station, WNCI, where he found he had received a voiceover contract. He also got a national advertising gig. The morning network TV shows fought over him. Oprah wants him on her new network. NFL Films has been in contact, and maybe Williams will have a future in Hollywood.

I have to admit, the man has a stunningly good voice, but Williams also has quite a rap sheet. He admits to having his life derailed by drugs and alcohol. There have been reports of some other legal issues as well, but thanks to last week's newspaper story, Williams has won the lottery.

Tim Jarmusz was a little bit foggy on the exact details. But one of his earliest memories of the Wisconsin-Michigan State series involved Devin Harris hitting a clutch basket at the Breslin Center.

Harris had a flair for the dramatic.

In this case, it was a cold-blooded Harris 3-point shot from the top of the key that tied the game and wound up sending the Badgers and the Spartans into overtime on March 2, 2004.

Harris then dominated the extra session with six points and a key assist on a Clayton Hanson triple that sealed the UW's 68-64 win and prevented MSU from claiming the Big Ten title.

The Spartans never got a chance to unfurl the championship banner hanging from the rafters.

"That's the game I'll always remember,'' said Jarmusz, a senior from Oshkosh.

It was the last time Wisconsin won in East Lansing.

Overall, though, the Badgers have won 12 of the last 17 meetings.

Tuesday night, the rivalry will be renewed at the Breslin Center.

Jarmusz said that the players must adjust to the environment any time they play on the road. "And Michigan State definitely has one of the better crowds in the Big Ten and possibly the country,'' he conceded. "But it's exciting and it gets you that much more pumped up to play. It's a good thing.''

Lucas at Large: Johnson's love for calling hoops is pure

The Big Ten Network is banking on Gus Johnson being excitable and energetic - which is akin to Monday following Sunday. When it comes to college basketball, every day is a holiday, an instant classic for Johnson, whose caffeinated play-by-play delivery is intoxicating and pure.

Rise and shine is a command.

Rise and fire is a commandment.

The Gospel according to Gus.

"To say that he's enthusiastic is probably an understatement,'' said Shon Morris, a BTN color analyst who was Johnson's sidekick for Wednesday's game between the Badgers and Michigan at the Kohl Center. "It's genuine,'' he added of Johnson's persona. "He loves being around the game.''

That was confirmed by the 43-year-old Johnson, whose easily recognizable voice is synonymous with March Madness and some of the most dramatic upsets in the NCAA tournament. Because of his high profile - especially when he's reaching the high notes - he was a big catch for the Big Ten Network.

The Voice: Thanks for a season to remember

The_Voice_Matt_Lepay_200.jpgAs we have often heard, maybe especially this season, a game and even a season can come down to a handful of plays. For 11 of the first 12 games of this just-concluded football season, those few plays broke Wisconsin's way. On New Year's Day at the Rose Bowl, they did not.

After Saturday's gut wrenching 21-19 loss to TCU, it is easy to wonder "what if" or play "coulda shoulda." A key penalty here, a missed connection on a pass play there. Settling for a field goal after a promising drive stalled. While it is only natural to wonder about that and more, it also can drive you nuts.

Let's remember the Badgers won two games in part because of blocked extra points. Think the folks at Arizona State and Iowa wonder about that? What if Scott Tolzien doesn't hit Nick Toon on a key third-down pass against Ohio State, allowing the Badgers to keep a drive alive while protecting a three-point lead? The momentum was about to completely shift the Buckeyes' way, but that pass helped lead to a critical fourth quarter score. Suppose they wonder about that in Columbus?

For the Badgers, the script almost played out perfectly. For TCU, it did. What fans witnessed on Saturday was a tightly contested game between two superb programs. It was not about David vs. Goliath.

It was not the big bad Badgers against the little old Horned Frogs. It simply was two very good, very well-coached teams playing a down-to-the-wire game that makes Rose Bowls special.

Hemer looks to join UW's rich walk-on tradition

Some questions are inappropriate for college-age athletes. Like, "What do you want on your tombstone?'' Then, again, if you're from Medford - the home of Tombstone pizza - the inquiry takes on a whole different slant, especially if you're a walk-on getting ready to play in your first Rose Bowl.

UW defensive tackle Ethan Hemer, a redshirt freshman from Medford, is understandably excited about Saturday's game against TCU. So is everybody back home. "Medford is a blue collar town,'' Hemer said. "A lot of factory jobs and a lot of Badgers fans.''

Hemer was one of them growing up - a die-hard fan - who has fond memories of watching Ron Dayne shred the UCLA defense in the 1999 Rose Bowl. That's why he opted to roll the dice as a walk-on at Wisconsin even though he could have received scholarship help at some smaller colleges.

"I just figured this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' said Hemer, also figuring that if it didn't work out the "smaller schools would always be there'' as a safety net. "I just wanted to take a shot and see what happened. Being an in-state kid, this place is very special.''

The Badgers have had a rich history of walk-on players who have gone on to have success. Joe Panos was the co-captain of the '94 Rose Bowl team. Bob Adamov and Donnel Thompson were co-captains in '98 and Jason Doering was one of five captains in '99. All were in-state walk-ons.

"For someone who's born and raised here,'' Hemer said, "and seen the success this place has had, it makes it that much more special coming here. But if you would have told me five years ago that I would be in this situation (to play in a Rose Bowl) I would have told you that you're crazy.''

Hemer is grateful to his mom and dad, Jeff and Kathy, for making the necessary financial sacrifices to be a walk-on. "My parents told me, 'Take the chance,''' he said. "They told me. 'Don't worry about the money. Just do it. Live for the moment. Don't worry about the financial aspect.'''

That meant he could concentrate on finding his niche, if he had one at all, on the defense. That wasn't easy. That took some adjusting. "That first fall camp was an eye-opener,'' Hemer said. "It's such a huge step from high school - the speed and the physicality. But eventually you get used to it.''

Hemer has adjusted quickly. He had four tackles in Wisconsin's win over No. 1-ranked Ohio State and that performance earned Hemer his first college start at Iowa, where he had six tackles. His position coach, Charlie Partridge, has called him the "most unsung'' member on the defensive line.

J.J. Watt has overshadowed all of his teammates upfront. Rightly so. Watt has been one of the most dominant players in college football this season. Watt leads by example, on and off the field. "Everyone sees his work ethic and that's a motivating force,'' Hemer said.

Now consider Hemer's potential place in history. Should he get the starting assignment against TCU - and Hemer has started the last five games, it would make for an intriguing storyline. While TCU is a non-AQ (Automatic Qualifier) school, Hemer would be a non-TS (Tendered Starter) in the Rose Bowl.

He would also be adding his name to a short list of players who have a college football connection to Medford, starting with Erny Pinckert who was born there. Pinckert was raised in California and starred at Southern Cal as a halfback. In 1932, Pinckert was the MVP of the Rose Bowl.

In addition to Pinckert - a member of the college football Hall of Fame - Medford High School can claim Steve Russ, who was born in Stetsonville, and played collegiately at Air Force. As a player, Russ took part in a couple of Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos. He's now coaching at Wake Forest.

Pretty heady stuff for Hemer. When asked if he had a working knowledge of the UW's walk-on history, he said, "I do. And I now have an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than me.'' The Rose Bowl has that impact on a lot of people.