Senior Grind for Evans

Senior forward Ryan Evans admits that his offense has not been consistent, but one thing that hasn't fluctuated is his confidence. Expected to play Sunday against Purdue, Evans is hoping he has one more big breakout left in him.

MADISON - The first to admit that his senior season hasn't gone according to plan, forward Ryan Evans wasn't downtrodden, discouraged or overly disappointed when reflecting on it in the days leading up to senior day. How could he be when one of his favorite children's stories, ‘the Tortoise and the Hare,' rewards those who stay diligent?

"If you keep on pushing and stay consistent, you'll find that door of opportunity," said Evans. "That's been shown for us as a team. It's the way we operate here."

About to finish his fifth year in the Wisconsin basketball program, Evans has been a part of 95 wins, is prepared to play in his fourth NCAA tournament in a few weeks and has overcome more than a fair share of adversity. After all, the Badgers had four losses and no chemistry in mid December, causing those outside the program to wonder if this would be the year UW took a large step back.

Heading into the final seven days of the regular season, Wisconsin (20-8, 11-4 Big Ten) sits one game out of first place in the conference and have won three straight conference games by 20 or more points for the first time in 101 years.

Not a bad experience for a guy who was cut from his high school team his sophomore year, making him wonder what his future as a basketball player would be.

"I've seen it all," said Evans. "To have success at this level, I know that hard work will pay off at the end of the day no matter what. Life is an experience and you learn so much every day.

"What I've experienced is hard workers win out in the end. I've watched Coach Ryan on how he's gone from the bottom to the top. I've watched many people in my life go from the bottom to the top, and that's because they're doing things the right way. That's just the way I live my life and I know it will pay off at the end of the day."

That's why Evans didn't pay attention to outside critics when his free throw and shooting percentage took a sharp nosedive. A year after shooting a career-high 44 percent from the floor and averaging a career-high 11 points per game, Evans is shooting only 39.3 percent, has shot less than 40 percent in seven conference games and is shooting only 41.4 percent from the free throw line.

Shooting better than 72 percent from the line the last two seasons, it got to the point last weekend when Evans started jump shooting his free throw attempts to find consistency. It evidently worked better than his futile tries of banking the attempts, as both of his jump-shot tries found the bottom of the net.

"It's a fallacy to think just working hard gets good things done," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "There's a lot more to it … It feels good at life when you are working on overcoming something that's a negative.

"He went to that method to help the team. I like that."

Just like most things in his career, Evans looks at the positive. He still is third on the team with a 10.5 scoring average and has scored in double figures in 21 of his last 26 Big Ten games, but Evans' rebounding has been vital. Evans leads UW and ranks third in the Big Ten with a 7.6 rebounding average.

Most important of all, Evans earned his bachelor degree in August and is currently enrolled in the education leadership and policy analysis graduate program.

"He's improved immensely over his four-plus years," said associate head coach Greg Gard. "He's probably come as far from when he walked in the door to where he is now as any kid that we've had in terms of skill development and increasing his knowledge. He takes the DVDs from practice home. I don't know what he looks at, but his head is in the right place to become a better player."

The situation Evans sits in now is ironic. Having never missed a game in his career, playing in 131 consecutive games, Evans is questionable for Sunday's senior day against Purdue after suffering a right knee sprain in practice Thursday. He sat out Friday's practice, but returned Saturday wearing a knee brace and didn't appear hampered.

It would be shocked if he didn't play, considering how resilient Evans is and the big cheering section coming in from Phoenix and around the Midwest.

"We make sure kids have their PhD: you're poor, hungry and driven," said Gard. "I don't care if it's a top 20 kid in the country or just a kid that gets lightly recruited. We look at what we need to have here and if their components give them the best chance to be successful on and off the court with what we demand and the responsibilities we put on people.

"Ryan didn't come here to just be happy playing at a Big Ten school and getting to the NCAA tournament every year. He's made himself better and made himself into a player."

Evans was candid that some of his performances haven't been up to par this year; losses like Marquette, Michigan State and Minnesota where he knows he could have done more to benefit the team. In the same breath, he says a good performance "is coming. I know it is."

For a guy who has been grinding on the court since his sophomore high school coach told him "no thanks," history shows that Evans will likely be right.

"I know things will work out and I'll be able to help this team out in a way I know I can," he said. "For things not to go right from an individual and team perspective and for us to be where we are at is great. I credit my teammates, I credit Coach Ryan and I credit myself. I've been a part of some great wins here at the University. Just keeping everything in perspective and trying to stay consistent."


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