Confident Koenig

Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker, Bo Ryan saw the importance of Bronson Koenig to Wisconsin's mix this season to give the true freshman pep talks and minutes off the bench. Once Koenig found his tempo and poise, he proved to himself that he can be hard to stop.

MADISON - One of the unquestioned leaders on Wisconsin's basketball team, junior guard Josh Gasser knows how to motivate a crowd. Having battled back from a torn ACL he suffered in October 2012, Gasser has been the guy most players look up to for toughness, tips and motivation, a role Gasser doesn't shy away from.

So when he saw true freshman point guard Bronson Koenig struggling with his confidence during the dogged stretches of Big Ten play, Gasser made it a point to let his voice be heard.

"I've been in his ear for a few weeks now, telling him how much better we are when he's aggressive, when he's playing the way he knows he can," said Gasser. "He's a freshman. It's tough sometimes. Confidence can be up and down (and) you want to help the team as much as you can. (Saturday) he showed how he can do it offensively." Koenig entered Saturday's road game at No.15 Iowa averaging two points in 12 minutes during conference play, but ended up playing 23 minutes of turnover-free basketball in UW's 79-74 win at No.15 Iowa. Just as important, he helped generate the offense, scoring a career-high 12 points and helping UW make 12 of its first 15 shots.

"I just told myself to slow down," said Koenig. "In past games I was rushing my shot a lot. When I caught that first pass, I just told myself to slow down and shoot my shot. Sometimes I tell myself to stay aggressive, but I rush myself."

Sitting and watching has never been Koenig's forte. The Associated Press player of the year as a senior, Koenig led La Crosse Aquinas to state championship last spring and as a sophomore. He might have done it as a junior, but ended up missing most of the season with torn ligaments in his right thumb, a season that also included an ill-advised attempt to play with the injury.

Contributing and competing was one of the reasons why Koenig was committed to playing this season for Wisconsin. Although the Badgers had depth at guard to start the year, Koenig quickly played his way into the rotations over redshirt sophomore George Marshall – who has since transferred – and became the first guard off the bench for UW coach Bo Ryan.

But after playing over 20 minutes five times during the nonconference season, Koenig saw his minutes dip in conference play (13.1 per game before last weekend) and his shooting percentage go from 50 percent in the nonconference to 29.4 in Big Ten play.

"It was hard to get my rhythm and … only taking two shots a game," said Koenig. "… I always knew I could do it, but I just had to go out there and actually do it myself."

That moment came in the first half at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. After point guard Traevon Jackson made two turnovers in the first four possessions, Koenig came in and executed his plan. He made a 3-pointer – his first since Feb.4 – to give Wisconsin its first lead and scored seven straight points during one stretch to help UW pad its lead.

"I was like, ‘That's the Bronson I know,'" said sophomore Sam Dekker. "When he can do that, he's tough."

If anybody knows what Koenig can do on the court, it would be Dekker. Having playing AAU basketball together for two years in the competitive Wisconsin Playground Warriors program, the two developed an on-the-court chemistry, and a friendship, that was one of reasons why Koenig committed to Wisconsin 15 months after Dekker did.

"We feed off each other really well," said Koenig, pointing to the fact that Dekker scored eight straight points after his mini run. "When one of us is playing good then the other kind of steps up, too."

"We were both really excited to play together again," he added. "We were really excited to bring a national championship back to Wisconsin."

If Koenig's numbers continue to rise, or even stay consistent, Wisconsin fortifies another area of weakness as it approaches the home stretch of the regular season. Through 27 games, the Badgers' starting lineup has played 77.5 percent of the minutes (4186 of 5400) and scored 80.2 percent of the points (1592 of 1985). Add freshman Nigel Hayes to that mix (486 minutes and 213 points), the percentages go up to 86.5 and 90.9, respectively.

When the Badgers host Indiana (15-11, 5-8 Big Ten) at the Kohl Center, Koenig will hope to give more than the first meeting between the two, where he missed all four of his shots – three 3-pointers – in only nine minutes in the 75-72 loss.

"When we have Bronson coming off the bench playing like he did (Saturday), that's going to be huge for us," said Dekker. "He's a great player, great shooter, great passer and some of his moves (Saturday) I haven't seen since my sophomore, junior year of a high school when I was playing AAU with him."

"Hopefully I can carry it over, keep being consistent with my shot and sticking with my principles," added Koenig.

And if he needs a pick-me-up, Koenig knows he can turn to Gasser.

"I'd say he is one of our leaders being a redshirt junior and having been here," Koenig said. "I try to model my game after his toughness (and) his defense."

If Koenig does that, UW will be in good shape.

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