There were blood stains on Mike Bruesewitz’s jersey Friday afternoon after the first practice for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team since its 60-54 home loss to Virginia two days earlier.
That’s hardly an uncommon occurrence for Bruesewitz, who treats gashes and stitches as a badge of honor for how hard he plays the game. In fact, the way the senior forward sees it, there would have been something wrong if he would have emerged from practice with a spotless uniform.
An off day didn’t do much to improve Bruesewitz’s mood after the Badgers’ stunning defeat to the Tony Bennett-led Cavaliers, who were 10½-point underdogs.
“They played harder than us,” Bruesewitz said. “It’s that simple.”
Those were hard words for Bruesewitz to say, considering the reputation UW has built under Bo Ryan. The Badgers aren’t always the most talented team on the court, but they generally make up for it by being smart and scrappy.
Not against Virginia, which outrebounded UW 36-25 and played a more physical brand of defense than the Badgers.
As a result, UW finds itself 4-3 heading into a tough game against California (6-0) at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Kohl Center.
“We can’t get outworked,” Bruesewitz said. “We’re not good enough to get outworked.”
Bruesewitz, who inherited the role of UW’s emotional leader after junior Josh Gasser was lost to a season-ending knee injury in late October, placed a significant share of the blame on himself.
The Badgers’ leader in rebounds per minutes played last season, he finished with just one in 30 minutes of action against Virginia. That low total was partially due to the fact he was the primary defender on Virginia sharpshooter Joe Harris and often found himself out on the perimeter in rebounding situations, but Bruesewitz felt he could have done more on the glass and elsewhere to secure the 50/50 balls that Virginia seemed to win a majority of the time.
Bruesewitz is less than two months removed from suffering a severe laceration on his right leg during a freak incident in a scrimmage situation, but he says his health is a non-issue.
“I didn’t hit the floor enough, I don’t think, against Virginia,” Bruesewitz said. “I didn’t come away with enough bruises, bumps, scrapes, I didn’t get bloody, and that’s my own fault. And I blame myself for that.”
Bruesewitz helped organize a team dinner at a Perkins Restaurant last season after the Badgers fell to 12-5 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten Conference play following an ugly loss at Michigan. UW followed the meeting — Bruesewitz described it as a “clear-the-air” session — with six consecutive victories to get back in the race for the league title.
No such meeting took place after Wednesday’s loss, though Bruesewitz admitted something may need to be done if UW doesn’t respond with a more passionate performance against the Golden Bears.
“It’s a little early to push the panic button,” he said, “but it’s early enough to start having a conversation of, ‘We need to figure this out, turn this around real quick, otherwise it’s going to get ugly.’ ”
Bruesewitz said the Bears are “good enough to run us off the floor if we don’t play hard enough,” so it’s on the Badgers to match that intensity.
“We’ve got to come out … and punch Cal in the mouth,” he said, “because we didn’t do that against Virginia.”