ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With his flowing red locks and timely 3-point shooting, University of Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz had a number of shining moments in last year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
But when Bruesewitz’s 2011 NCAA heroics morphed into a deep shooting slump in 2012, people were quick to blame it on the fact that he had cut off his long hair.
Well, the truth has finally come out. It wasn’t the hair, people. It was simply that the NCAA tournament hadn’t started yet.
“It just seems like whenever March comes around, he steps up,” UW guard Josh Gasser said. “Today was no exception.”
No, it wasn’t. In UW’s thoroughly complete 73-49 victory over Montana in its NCAA opener Thursday at The Pit, Bruesewitz scored eight points in 10-4 second-half run that all but buried the Grizzlies.
It was Bruesewitz’s first three points that had his teammates mobbing him during a subsequent timeout. When he took a pass from Ben Brust and buried a 3-point shot with 10 minutes, 56 seconds to play, it snapped a string of 19 consecutive misses from 3-point land that dated back to a Feb. 9 game at Minnesota.
Remember how the Badgers were so thrilled for senior Rob Wilson when he scored 30 points against Indiana in the Big Ten Conference tournament? Well, they were just as happy for Bruesewitz when the junior quickly and calmly dropped that 3.
“It was similar to when Rob had 30 the other day,” guard Jordan Taylor said. “I know it wasn’t 30, but we’re all best of friends around here and I know Mike’s been struggling from the floor. He does so many other things well, but just to see the smile on his face when he was able to knock those down was a relief for himself and for me, too.”
Not to mention the rest of the team.
In short order, Bruesewitz scored a layup on an assist from a falling-down Taylor and shot another 3 that danced on the rim a bit before falling through. Those eight points made up Bruesewitz’s highest-scoring game since he had 11 against Ohio State on Feb. 4.
“I don’t know if it’s the weight of the world, but it’s about time,” he said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do is knock down shots. ... It’s good to knock down a couple and it finally feels good to get a friendly roll for once. But when I knocked it down, it felt good.”
If the shot meant a lot to Bruesewitz, it meant just as much to his teammates. Slowly but surely, the Badgers have added scoring threats this season. Ryan Evans, Gasser and Wilson have become more consistent scorers lately. If Bruesewitz joins the party, UW will be as balanced as it has been all season, and just in time with SEC tournament champion Vanderbilt coming up Saturday.
No wonder the Badgers were in celebration mode when Bruesewitz’s streak mercifully came to an end.
“The crowd was into it, the bench was into it and it got us players on the floor a little amped up, too,” Gasser said. “Mike’s a huge part of our offense. When he can knock down shots and penetrate to the rim, it makes us a lot better.”
The initial reaction to Bruesewitz’s return to his NCAA form was that Montana was unaware of him because he had been virtually invisible during Big Ten play. That wasn’t the case, however. Grizzlies assistant coach Freddie Owens, a former UW player, knew all about Bruesewitz.
“I told our guys, ‘He’s shooting 27 percent from 3. Do not let that fool you. He can make shots from the outside,’” Owens said. “So our guys knew.”
So did Montana coach Wayne Tinkle. He said he knew Bruesewitz could make shots because UW coach Bo Ryan kept allowing him to shoot them.
As hard as Ryan can be on players who make fundamental mistakes, he doesn’t dog shooters when they’re in a slump, especially when they continue to work on their shot like Bruesewitz did. In practice just the other day, Ryan told Bruesewitz he was due. Turned out Ryan was right.
“I’m happy to see anybody on our team have a great game, especially Mike,” Taylor said. “He cares so much about winning and he wants to contribute. I know it’s been a rough stretch of shooting for him, but to see him just knock those down, it was pretty cool.”
It was also reminiscent of UW’s first two tournament games last season. Bruesewitz was 3-for-4 overall and 2-for-3 from 3-point range in each game. Thursday, he was 3-for-5 overall and 2-for-3 from 3.
“I’ve put in a lot of time,” he said. “Other teams can think whatever they want. But in my mind and a lot of guys in the locker room still know I can knock down shots. But I’m still not completely out of it. I made two shots. C’mon guys, we’ve still got a long ways to go.”
True, but this is the NCAA tournament, a time Bruesewitz freely admits is special to him. If a suddenly confident Bruesewitz can keep knocking down shots, it could lead to a lot more shining moments for the Badgers.
Contact Tom Oates at email@example.com or 608-252-6172.