Cleaning the Boards

Looking to replace 45.3 percent of its rebounding last season, No.14 Wisconsin has seen junior Mike Bruesewitz elevate his game. Entering tonight's matchup with Milwaukee, Bruesewitz is seventh in the Big Ten in rebounding and fifth in the conference in offensive rebounds.

MILWAUKEE – Mike Bruesewitz paused for a good eight seconds as he counted up the rebounds him and his teammates pulled down against UNLV. Considering the struggles over the past week, it appeared Bruesewitz wanted to revel in the moment.

"Controlling the glass obviously results in wins if you look at stats a lot of times," said Bruesewitz. "Teams that win the battle of the boards usually wins."

It's no big secret but the key is executing, and something that Bruesewitz has taken personally since he arrived on campus prior to the 2009 season. It's a reason why he's played in 70 career games with 21 starts.

In the Badgers' 62-51 victory over UNLV Saturday, Bruesewitz grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds, four on the offensive glass, to help Wisconsin earn a critical 34-32 rebounding victory over a Runnin' Rebels team that averaged 40 rebounds, 13.3 offensive rebounds and 6.6 more rebounds than their opponent per game.

The final margin didn't do justice to how dominant UW was, as UNLV managed just five offensive rebounds and didn't get its first offensive rebound until 10:25 left in the game.

Rebounding has been the hot topic for Wisconsin's bigs this season as they look to survive a huge exodus from last year. Looking to replace 45.3 percent of their rebounding, Wisconsin was outrebounding undersized opponents by over 13.8 per game, but lost the battle by 13, 12 and 1 in their next three games against bigger interiors.

"At times, we didn't get the big rebound that could have made the difference in the game," said assistant coach Gary Close of UW's two losses against North Carolina and Marquette. "(Mike) understands how important we need him to hit the boards and he's a guy that likes to do it. He likes the physical part of the game. There's no reason why he can't be a real good rebounder. He's got good hands, good instinct and he likes contact."

The test continues for No.14 Wisconsin (8-2) tonight against a Milwaukee (8-2) team that Close calls head coach Rob Jeter's best team in seven seasons. After winning 10 of its last 13 games to close last season as Horizon League regular season champions, the Panthers have won eight of their first 10 (only losing at Michigan State and Northern Iowa) and return a lot of vital players that beat Butler two out of three times last season.

The Panthers lost depth inside with the graduation of Anthony Hill and his 6.6 rebounds per game, but immediately replaced him with junior transfer James Haarsma, who leads the team with 7.9 boards per game, is second on the team with 10.6 points and plays a game that mirrors what UW has with Bruesewitz.

"He's a lot like Mike and gives them a lot of what Mike gives us," Close said. "He's tough, he's physical, he's a great post defender, gets tough rebounds and is averaging close to four offensive rebounds per game. He gives them some scoring around the basket and from three. They have some momentum coming from last year."

In terms of learning, Bruesewitz could not have had a bigger classroom to soak up knowledge from. For two seasons, Bruesewitz learned under four senior post players with talent in different areas. Jon Leuer was a scorer, Keaton Nankivil was a post-up specialist, Tim Jarmusz was the mixer who dove for loose balls and played stoic defense and J.P. Gavinski was a physical presence.

Throw in the fact that he had Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans coming off redshirt seasons, Bruesewitz got his bearings, got encouragement from the coaching staff that he could play as a true freshman and started the hands-on learning process.

"I just told myself I was going to go for it," said Bruesewitz. "I had two turnovers and a missed shot against Oakland my first game, but then we went out to Maui and I played over 20 minutes against Arizona and had my best game as a freshman (22 minutes, 6 points, 7 rebounds)."

Physically as a freshman, Bruesewitz handled the workload going against Big Ten forwards like Michigan State's Draymond Green and Purdue's Robbie Hummel. Mentally, Bruesewitz got needed game experience after appearing in 28 games as a true freshman and averaging 11.3 minutes over the final six conference games.

"I got some game experience that not only helped me last year, but this year, too," Bruesewitz said. "Experience exudes confidence. The more experience you have, the more confident I am going to be."

The junior learned quickly. After 54.4 percent (31 of 57) of his rebounds came on the offensive end as a freshman, Bruesewitz averaged 8.7 points and 6.3 rebounds during three NCAA tournament games after suffering a sprain knee in the Big Ten Tournament.

Through 10 games this season, Bruesewitz is seventh in the Big Ten in rebounding (5.8 avg.) and fifth in offensive rebounds (2.3 avg.), a sign that he has adequately filled the role of Jarmusz last season as being UW's mixer on the court.

"When you get somebody that is doing (the gritty things) readily, you hope it inspires other teammates to do those things and make him a leader by example," Close said. "We need to do those types of things. Quite frankly, we're just not good enough to be able to beat teams, especially some of the teams on our schedule, without out working guys. Mike is certainly a catalyst in that category."

Part of the mixing process for Bruesewitz came over the summer when he was selected to the East Coast All-Stars, a 10-man national team that competed in the Four Nations Cup in Estonia in August. Playing with a 24-second shot clock instead of 36 seconds, Bruesewitz came back with the knowledge of how to better manage the game and averaged 9.3 points and 6.5 rebounds playing against European national teams, some which included NBA players.

"I had a great time over there," Bruesewitz said. "I got to meet a lot of guys over there and made some good friends, but the style of basketball over there is a lot different and the style that we played is a lot different. We trapped the whole game so I was dogged tired by the end of the trip. European basketball is different, the officiating is suspect at times and it helped me with the pace of the game."

Better news for fans is that Bruesewitz feels the improvement is still coming. Not taking classes over the summer compared to having six hours of class during his sophomore summer, Bruesewitz approached the gym as his classroom, shooting up to two hours a day to improve his ball handling and his perimeter shooting to meet the needs of his team.

"He's constantly trying to add things to his game," said Close. "His outside shooting hasn't shown up quite as much as we think it will, but he's putting the ball on the floor a little bit. Losing Jon and Keaton from a rebounding perspective was a major concern. We and he realized that, and he is certainly trying to make up for it."

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