Picking Up the Slack

Although losing playing time and his scholarship, senior Kevin Gullikson never compromised his perseverance or his work ethic, a big reason why he was given his first career start this past Wednesday.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The luster and joy was short lived, even after all the trials and tribulations he had overcome to get to that point.

Replacing struggling sophomore Keaton Nankivil in the starting lineup on Wednesday, senior Kevin Gullikson, making his first career start against Iowa, didn't have time to bask in his achievement.

On the Hawkeyes' first offensive series, Gullikson failed to give defensive help, resulting in an easy layup for Iowa. Even more crushing was the Badgers dropped their third straight game, something that Gullikson hasn't experience since his 2006 sophomore season.

"It was nice to get rewarded but starting isn't a big deal, especially when you lose a game like we did," said Gullikson, a walk-on from Stillwater, Minnesota. "The end result is more important to me then when I get in the game. We lost, which makes the next few days big for us."

Big doesn't begin to describe Wisconsin's need to come away from Assembly Hall with a victory over Illinois (16-3, 4-2 Big Ten) on Saturday. The Badgers (12-6, 3-3 Big Ten) have never lost four consecutive conference games under Bo Ryan, a stat that Wisconsin is in danger of breaking against the 25th-ranked Fighting Illini, who are tied for second place in the Big Ten and are 11-1 at home.

Unlike Iowa, Illinois brings a balanced attack, averaging 69.9 points per game and giving up a league-best 56.6 points per contest, an unforgiving problem if the Badgers continue to struggle with basic defense and turnovers.

Which is why Wisconsin wasted little time getting to work on Thursday, trying to clean up the problems that have plagued the Badgers over the past two-plus weeks.

"Nothing is wrong with this team," Gullikson said. "We've just been giving up some easy baskets on the defensive end. There have been some big baskets for the other team that haven't been all our fault, but that's not an excuse.

"We (UW's seniors) have been around and we know how it goes. We have to show by example by working hard."

Working hard has been something Gullikson has been striving for since his last run in with the law. Last January, Gullikson received his third underage drinking ticket in three years and spent the remainder of the season in the unofficial doghouse. In addition to only playing a combined four minutes in UW's final 22 games, Gullikson lost his scholarship that he received after his freshman season.

Even despite all of it, Gullikson was given the support of his peers, something that motivated the senior to keep striving and pushing his teammates.

"I just try to bring that energy everyday in practice," Gullikson said. "It all just comes from working hard because that is when opportunities arise. Coach Ryan has given me an opportunity and hopefully, I can take advantage of it and help this team."

Gullikson's perseverance didn't go unnoticed from Ryan, who started putting the senior in during key stretch against Texas, Northwestern and Minnesota. Against Iowa, Gullikson played 21 minutes, scored four points and had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2-to-1.

"Kevin earned the opportunity and did a good job with it," Ryan said of Gullikson's play at Iowa. "I was pleased with his reads and what he did with it. "Kevin brings knowledge of movement and decision making with post feeds because he's been around."

With 12 games left in the season, Gullikson isn't worried about whether he starts or comes off the bench as long as he can contribute in a positive fashion. With the Badgers facing their first four-game skid since 1998, Gullikson knows that he and his teammates need to work that much harder in order to try to stay afloat in the challenging Big Ten.

"All I am worried about is trying to get this team better," Gullikson said. "We're going to go there and take care of business. Everybody is working hard because we don't want to keep having this feeling."


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