Focused on Consistency
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Focused on Consistency

In his first season as a contributor, redshirt freshman guard George Marshall is experiencing the highs and lows of college basketball.

EVANSTON, Ill. - Although he's one of five seniors on the University of Wisconsin's roster, forward Mike Bruesewitz has always felt it was his role to be the one to reach out to the young players during good times and bad.

Throughout conference play, Bruesewitz has found himself sending text messages to freshman guard George Marshall on a regular basis.

"I like George a lot," said Bruesewitz. "He's a good kid, works extremely hard and he's a heck of a basketball player. He just needs to stay aggressive because last year he showed he can do that. He showed us that all summer and all fall."

Showing strength and aggression on the scout team is one thing, especially when associate head coach Greg Gard pointed out there usually is no leash to harness players, but playing in front of sold out venues in the nation's toughest conference is another.

For Marshall, that's been the challenge in his first season on the court.

Marshall showed promise throughout his redshirt year guarding Jordan Taylor daily in scout team practice and building his confidence. It was the main reason that when Josh Gasser went down for the season, Marshall became the first UW freshman to start the season opener since Devin Harris in 2001, and one of just four freshmen to start any game under Bo Ryan, joining Harris, Alando Tucker (2003) and Gasser (2010).

Problem was that after the first six games, Marshall lost that tenacity and his starting job.

"Young players there are ups and downs and peaks and valleys," said Gard. "It's got to become consistent. Some days are great and some days are a struggle."

Marshall acknowledged in the beginning that he didn't want to step on the toes of the seniors, playing outside his abilities or make a turnover that would land him a spot on the bench. Ironically, that led to Marshall playing tentative and turning the ball over seven times in the first six games, including three against Arkansas that got him benched.

"That's what I didn't want to do," Marshall said. "Playing aggressive is what I should have done."

That awakening led to Marshall's breakout performance at Iowa, scoring a career-high 20 points in just 15 minutes of playing time. He scored all 20 in the second half, including 16 in the final 4:33, that gave a glimpse into his potential.

"There were things that we'd seen finally consistently for a stretch of time," said Gard. "He showed some things we'd been seeing for the past year: aggressiveness, playing like he belonged. In the past it seems like he's played not to make mistakes. Why do you play differently on the scout team and the regular team? Obviously it's different when the lights are on and there's people in the stands. Some players adjust to that faster than others."

Knowing the fear of getting the quick hook to the bench by making the wrong play, Bruesewitz was quick to put his arm around Marshall after he missed a pair of free throws (the second intentionally) in the final seconds in a 49-47 home loss to Michigan State. While most young players would panic with the ball in their hand with the clock winding down, Bruesewitz was impressed that Marshall made the correct play of attacking the rim and getting fouled instead of taking a bad three-point attempt.

"Nine times out of 10 that's the right play," said Bruesewitz. "As a young guy, you learn that's a very important play."

The important part is learning to battle through the inconsistencies. While Marshall enters tonight's game at Northwestern having been held scoreless in four of its last five outings, Marshall is still averaging 4.6 points and 17.0 minutes per game while shooting 39.2 percent (29-for-74) on the season, the latter of which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

And while turnovers were a problem during the early parts of the season, Marshall has committed only three in conference play. After committing two turnovers in the opener, Marshall went 11 games and 158 minutes before committing another.

"He's still a freshman," said Bruesewitz. "He didn't see any minutes last year and this is the first year he is stepping in. He's obviously going to take some lumps and being a point guard for Coach Ryan is no easy task. It's a learning curve. It's always a process. You aren't going to be perfect."

Marshall knows his time will come again, and he knows exactly how to play when his number gets called again.

"I just plan on keep playing aggressive," said Marshall. "This season overall, I haven't really been using everything that I have. (This) second half I just put it all on the line and just attacked."