Big Ten Crash Course for Koenig

One of the three bench players Wisconsin relies on, true freshman Bronson Koenig continues to adjust his game to match the physical style of Big Ten play.

MADISON - After grinding through one of Wisconsin's more challenging nonconference seasons in the program's history, true freshman guard Bronson Koenig thought he was prepared for the type of intensity he was going to be facing in the Big Ten.

Needless to say, the first month of conference play has been an eye opener.

"It's definitely a lot different," said Koenig. "It's just a totally different atmosphere with the game intensity and everything else. The rivalries that the Big Ten has makes games a lot more competitive. We used to get a of day here and there in the nonconference season, but now we're going every single day getting ready for the next opponent with short turnarounds."

Koenig – a 6-3 guard from La Crosse Aquinas - has been used to playing in tough environments against top competition throughout his brief basketball career. He played for the Wisconsin Playground Warriors on the AAU circuit, playing at Indiana's Assembly Hall, North Carolina's Dean Dome and in other venues around the country against some of the nation's top high school players.

He admitted that Assembly Hall for AAU was a lot different than Assembly Hall for a Hoosiers game, getting caught off guard by the ruckus environment that was a small factor in UW's first loss of the season. It's been tough going since that point, as the Badgers have lost four of five heading into Saturday's home matchup against No.24 Ohio State, another program that has fallen on tough times.

Once 15-0, the Buckeyes – like the Badgers – are stumbling through conference play, coming to the Kohl Center having lost five of six, including a three-point overtime home loss on Wednesday to last place Penn State.

Koenig and his teammates can commiserate after shooting 26.3 percent in a nine-point home to Northwestern that broke a string of 14 straight Wildcat losses in Madison.

"There's no question that when the Big Ten rolls around, fans get jacked up and there's a different feeling," said assistant coach Gary Close. "I am sure he's absorbed some of that."

He's also absorbed some punishment. Following Wisconsin's loss at Indiana, Koenig was bitten badly by the flu bug that made its way through members of the team and to coach Bo Ryan. Koenig has also dealt with hamstring and back issues that have limited his production in spurts.

Koenig has admitted he's fine and treating the problem, but recognizes that he needs to bring more energy off the bench.

After averaging 16.6 minutes and 3.8 points off the bench in conference play, Koenig's minutes are down slightly (13.5 per game) and so are his points (2.4) in conference play.

"I think (Coach Ryan) is definitely right that we need to bring more energy off the bench with defense and rebounding." said Koenig.

Bench production has been a glaring problem as the Badgers trudge through conference play. Only going three deep on the bench, UW has relied on true freshman Koenig and Nigel Hayes and redshirt junior Duje Dukan, whose career high of 11 minutes was set two seasons ago. After getting double-digit points from its bench in 10 of the first 16 games, UW has accomplished that feat once in the last five games, been outscored in each of those games and trail by a combined score of 118-41.

"To come in and be consistent and do things that they do well - scoring around the basket, rebound, knock down shots – is tough," said Close. "They need to be adding to what we're trying to do."

When healthy, Close said Koenig brings stability, good ball handling and can hit shots while he improves defensively. He showed that in the nonconference season when he was given the opportunity to play after George Marshall went down with a concussion. His play was so productive that the UW coaches gave Koenig the minutes even after Marshall was cleared.

Marshall has since transferred and will being play at South Dakota State next season. Koenig on the other hand is trying to regain that intensity off the bench that led him to secure his spot in the rotation two months ago.

"I just have got to keep pushing, keep trying to get better and be more consistent," he said. "I can't let missed shots affect my next shot, as well as on the defensive end."

That's been easy for Koenig, who has never been described as a selfish player. Named Wisconsin Player of the Year by the Associated Press last season, Koenig averaged 17.0 points and 4.4 assists per game while leading Aquinas to its second state championship in three years.

A former four-star prospect, Koenig picked Wisconsin over offers from Duke, Kansas, Marquette, North Carolina, Virginia and others. Now he's trying to pick apart Big Ten opponents and get UW pointed back in the right direction.

"You just have to let your ego go," said Koenig. "I am not used to not playing starter's minutes. It's about bringing about as much as energy as you can, produce and make something happen. It's about trying to stay out there as long as possible.

"It's not always easy not playing a lot, but I have gotten use to it. I've gotten used to my role and accepted it."


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