Men's hoops: Flowers' first start

Whether off the bench or filling in with the starting five, sophomore guard is key in UW's rotation

MADISON — In several ways, Michael Flowers' part in the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team's victory over Indiana Wednesday was just like any other game. The sophomore guard played 26 minutes, scored six points, played hard-nosed defense and chipped in wherever he could, on this night pulling down seven rebounds, tied for a team-high.

One important feature was unique for Flowers, however: for the first time in his college career, the Madison native was in the starting lineup.

"It was full of nervous energy," Flowers said of his starting assignment. "But it was nice. I got a start under my belt so the next time I start or I'm in that position, then I'll know how to handle my, I guess, adrenaline, because I had a lot of it last night."

That adrenaline showed itself in Flowers' four turnovers — his second-most of the season — and his four personal fouls. All in all, though, it was a successful outing.

"The greatest compliment a player can get is to be in that starting lineup," Flowers said. "Indiana went small with one big and so coach had to make a strategic move and go small with one big too, and it worked out for the better."

IU's four-guard set was one reason for Flowers' insertion in the starting lineup. Of paramount importance was sophomore forward Brian Butch's ankle injury, an ailment that kept him out of practice Monday. Butch practiced Thursday and appeared to be feeling less discomfort, and UW coach Bo Ryan hinted that he would return to the starting lineup when the Badgers tip off with host Penn State Saturday afternoon.

Flowers has shown all season that he is comfortable as UW's sixth-man. He has often been the team's top reserve at the 1, 2 and 3 positions.

"I really can't tell what coach has in mind," Flowers said. "If I am in there, then I'm ready to go out there and start. But if I'm not then just ready to come off the bench and be as consistent as I can. That's been my goal throughout the season is just that steady consistency in my play that coaches are looking for."

"The starting thing — with playing seven, eight guys — it really doesn't matter," assistant coach Gary Close said, "because most of them are playing—with the exception of Alando (Tucker) and Kam (Taylor) — most of them are playing about the same. And it varies from game to game based on matchups and how guys are playing."

The floor time for Taylor (34.6 minutes per game) and Tucker (33.6) significantly outpaces the rest of the team, particularly in conference games, where they are averaging 36 and 35.2 minutes per game, respectively.

But Flowers has been receiving starter-quality minutes throughout the campaign. His 24.2 minutes per game is third on the team and he is fourth in conference-only playing time (22.9).

It is a big jump from last season, when Flowers averaged nine minutes per game.

"He's in a different role now," Close said. "Hopefully now he's getting a little more comfortable playing some extended minutes. (He is) trying to develop his game as we try to develop this team. He's doing a good job."

Dating back to his days at Madison La Follette High School, Flowers' calling card has been his defense. He continues to improve in that regard, but Flowers' offensive game is also enjoying noteworthy growth. He still shoots relatively infrequently, but Flowers is second on the team in 3-point field-goal percentage (38.3) and third in 3-pointers made (18).

"He's shooting it pretty well," Close said. "He could be a real good shooter. A lot of it is confidence, a lot of it experience and just knocking some shots down and feeling good about yourself. He's heading in the right direction."

Flowers, who leads the team in steals (30) and is second in assists (51), emphasized that shooting is just one part of his overall game.

"When you go out there you can't be focused on one thing or the other," he said. "Shots don't always go in. That's why I rely on my defense to create offense.

"Shooting the ball is part of the offense. It's finding the open guy and the open guy hitting down the shot. I'm more than comfortable and willing to do that for the team."

He may return to a reserve role Saturday, but Flowers will remain a key contributor.

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