Jan. 16, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Shooting free throws into the Indiana band and student section -- oblivious to the din and bobbing Fatheads -- Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz was thinking, “This is what I live for.’’
You could see his lips moving while he was measuring each attempt from the line.
“I was talking to myself,’’ he acknowledged.
This was Bruesewitz motivating Bruesewitz.
This was Bruesewitz eyeing the rim and reminding himself, “You’ve been in the gym, you’ve knocked down these shots a 1,000 times.’’
This was Bruesewitz taking a deep breath and reminding himself, “These are the type of moments that you’ve worked so hard for.’’
This was Bruesewitz grinning and reiterating, “This is what you live for.’’
The later it got in the game, the louder it got, the more he got into it.
“I love it when you come into a hostile place like this and you fight hard,’’ Bruesewitz said. “This was all about grit, toughness -- whatever you want to call it -- this was what it was all about.’’
Wisconsin’s 64-59 win Tuesday night over No. 2 Indiana -- the 11th-straight in the series and an unprecedented fifth in a row at Assembly Hall -- had Tom Crean talking to himself afterward.
As the Hoosiers head coach, he is 0-9 vs. Bo Ryan and the Badgers.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys in the locker room who don’t give up and who don’t quit,’’ said Bruesewitz, a senior leader and emotional catalyst. “A lot of people counted us out earlier in the year. A lot of people said that we were going to get smacked by 30 points here.
“My thought process was, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve just got to hoop and have fun.’ An environment like this can swallow you up real quick unless you take the right attitude. Everybody had it from the jump -- everybody had the attitude -- that was the biggest thing about the win.’’
There were many big sequences during the game, none bigger, perhaps, nor more telling, than three consecutive Wisconsin possessions with less than five minutes remaining.
After taking a 10-point lead, 51-41, the Badgers went cold from the field and failed to score a basket over a stretch of 7:34. The Hoosiers countered with a 10-1 run -- capped by a Yogi Ferrell 3-pointer.
Assembly Hall erupted.
Wisconsin 52, Indiana 51.
Could the Badgers hold on?
Ben Brust had the first answer off an offensive rebound.
“It was tipped out to me, I took a dribble back to get some space and knocked it down,’’ said Brust, whose jumper restored the lead to 54-51. “That is like the most hated shot by Coach (Ryan) if you miss it, so I was like, ‘Please God, go in.’ I knew they (the Hoosiers) were closing fast.’’
After Indiana’s Christian Watford made a couple of free throws, Ryan Evans answered. With the shot clock running down and Victor Oladipo draped all over him, Evans had the ball in the circle.
Oladipo is viewed as one of the top defenders in college basketball.
Was Evans looking for a teammate when it appeared that he wasn’t going to get a good look?
“No, I was planning on shooting it to tell you the truth,’’ he said.
What ensued was strong will vs. strong will.
“It’s a shot that I’ve been shooting all my basketball career; it’s the first shot I took as a player,’’ said Evans, a senior from Phoenix, Ariz. “So it was something that I knew that I could hit. When I was in the seventh grade, I watched Michael Jordan hit that shot. It was a simple turnaround fadeaway.’’
Evans made the shot and pushed Wisconsin to a 56-53 lead with 3:06 left.
At the other end, Indiana’s Cody Zeller was guilty of a turnover when pressured by Jared Berggren. Now it was Traevon Jackson’s turn to come up with an answer, and he had one.
Working off the dribble, he got separation for a pull-up jumper from the elbow.
“I felt like that had been given to me all game, so I knew that I could knock it down, ’’ said Jackson, who gave the Badgers a 58-53 lead. “That’s my shot. I work on it all the time.’’
Three possessions, three shots, three answers.
Crean saw it much differently.
“In the second half,’’ he said, “they made some shots at the shot clock that reminded me of the McDonald’s Michael Jordan-Larry Bird H-O-R-S-E commercials … they were hitting crazy shots.’’
Brust hit a shot that Ryan expects his players to hit. Evans hit a tightly contested shot but a shot that he has been shooting since he was a teenager. Jackson hit his favorite shot. How crazy is that?
“We made big shots at big times,’’ said UW associate head coach Greg Gard, “and kept answering the bell.’’
Meanwhile, the Badgers held the highest scoring team in college basketball to 59 points.
That was 28 under Indiana’s average. Now that’s crazy.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job of following the scouting report,’’ said Gard, “as far as doing exactly what we needed to do to come here and win. For the most part, this is as good as it gets.’’
One of the keys was handling Indiana’s full-court pressure and overall ball pressure. During their Monday night practice at Assembly Hall, the Badgers used six defenders to simulate the Hoosiers.
“You could see what their mindset was,’’ Gard said of Indiana’s early aggressiveness. “It was to try and speed us up and attack our younger guards -- to try and rattle them a little bit.’’
Marquette utilized the same strategy and it worked.
“I thought of that coming into another hostile environment,’’ Jackson said. “I kind of felt the same tonight as I did then. At Marquette, I didn’t do what I needed to do. But you learn from it.’’
Regarding the Indiana pressure, he said, “It’s basketball, so you just have to take care of the ball and make the right passes and the right decisions. I’m growing every day.’’
That growth has not gone unnoticed, either.
“That kid has come a long ways in a couple of months,’’ Gard said of Jackson. “He played with such composure and such moxie (Tuesday).
“He has gotten a better feel for point guard and how he can help this team in ways other than scoring. We talked about controlling the pace of the game before the game and in the huddles.’’
Jackson, a sophomore, has never lacked confidence.
“The more time I’m getting now,’’ he said, “I feel like I’m getting more comfortable and I’ve been able to play more of my game -- the game I’ve always envisioned playing to help this team.’’
Confidence, in this context, is definitely not an issue for freshman Sam Dekker.
“I like it when the bright lights are on; I like the big stage against good teams, that gets me going.’’ said Dekker, who scored 10 points. “I don’t have a scared bone in my body.’’
It was scary what Zeller was able to do in the first half. He went 8-for-8 and scored 18 points.
“We let him get going,’’ Gard said. “We actually played him too tight on the perimeter early in the game and he was able to drive around us.
“He’s obviously a great player and he has been doing that to a lot of people. But in the second half, we played smaller and that might have bothered him because we were a little quicker.
“Playing with the lead, we were able to stretch possessions out. And we did a better job of taking away gaps and making his touches; not giving him as much room when he touched it.’’
Zeller scored only five points in the second half.
“Footwork is so important in this game,’’ Ryan said. “I thought we did a much better job moving our feet and getting defensive angles in the second half and then he (Zeller) had a tougher time maybe getting his looks. It was all about our feet and we got some help to him.’’
In many facets, the Badgers are hitting their stride.
“We’ve had to weather some ups and downs, and it hasn’t always been pretty at times,’’ Gard said. “But I think this group is moving in the right direction and this was a huge statement.’’
The players made some of their own.
“Who goes on the road and beats No. 2?’’ Evans posed. “We came together collectively -- offensively and defensive. This is what we knew we could do for all those doubters out there.’’
Dekker asked rhetorically, “What’s been the difference? It’s us learning how to play with each other. We’re together on the court and we’re playing confidently. That is what is getting us W’s.’’
After the game, Bruesewitz was interviewed at mid- court by ESPN’s Samantha Ponder to a chorus of jeers from a handful of Indiana students. He couldn’t stop grinning.
“He likes this type of environment,’’ Gard said. “He likes the big moments. He likes it when our backs our against the wall. He’s a street fighter.’’
He’s not the only one in that locker room.