Mike Bruesewitz's late-game turnover wasn't the only reason the Badgers lost to Minnesota.
By FS WISCONSIN STAFFFS Wisconsin
By JOAN NIESEN
MINNEAPOLIS – Mike Bruesewitz took the blame.
Up two, mental error, free throw, free throw, blame.
Tie game, blame.
Loss, 58-53 to Minnesota, blame.
The Wisconsin senior forward saw it as something of a causal chain, an implosion that began with the simplest mental error.
With 22 seconds remaining in the game and the Badgers leading, 49-47, Bruesewitz was set to inbound the ball after a timeout. But instead of standing as still as the rules require in such a situation, he ran the baseline, was called for a turnover and then watched as his team fouled Joe Coleman, who hit two free throws to tie the thing.
"I've been in that position 100 times, if not more," Bruesewitz said. "We've done it enough in practice where we can't move. I just took one too many steps. I tried to get a better angle to get the ball to (Jackson). They called it, and that was the game."
And in many ways, it was, if you look at the thing as a microcosm. With 22 seconds left and thus no shot clock, the Badgers could easily have found a way to end the game then and there. But all Bruesewitz did was force overtime, force five more minutes against a team whose offense had looked stagnant all night.
Mike Bruesewitz's feet were just the beginning of Wisconsin's problems.
Coach Bo Ryan knew it postgame. The man who spends games crouched on the sideline as if ready to uncoil at a moment's notice was resolutely calm. Yes, what Bruesewitz did caused a "tough turnover," but as Ryan pointed out, the team had more chances. It had already had more chances, for that matter, a healthy lead in the opening minutes it had all but blown by halftime, seven missed free throws, problems getting to the rim. Reasons for the loss were floated as a series of questions to the coach postgame, and with each, Ryan had an acknowledgement and a deflection, on to the next culprit.
Point guard Traevon Jackson had trouble getting to the basket. But he was just one part of a struggling pair on offense; his 3 of 14 shooting was just barely worse than forward Ryan Evans' 2 of 8. So pass the blame along, or share it, or something.
And then there was Evans, who duplicated his mark from the field at the free-throw line. In a game as tight as Thursday's, one free throw could be the difference, one slightly different flick of the wrist or twitch of the legs. It's arbitrary when you miss once, still left to chance when it happens twice, but three, four, five, six times, and then you start talking about it.
"He just makes his free throws, we're out of here," Ryan said. "We're on the plane already. … You knew it was going to get us one game. Hopefully not two. What can you say?"
You can say several things, but none of them to any avail. Practice those shots more, but as any coach will tell you, it's impossible to import thousands of screaming fans and in-game pressure to an empty gym. Don't take that step, but same thing. Bruesewitz said as much; he's practiced that inbounds who knows how many times. He's been playing basketball for who knows how many years, and he knows what he should do. Just as Evans – a 72.6 percent free-throw shooter last season who has fallen to 41.1 this year -- knows he needs to make those free throws.
Those are the errors that get pointed to, highlighted. Bruesewitz's play will live on in video form, more painful when viewed like that, in its isolation from the rest of the night. Evans' inability to make the easiest shots of the game will be debated ad nauseum, too. But Ryan seemed no more angered by them than any other errors, and a coach who's been doing what he does as long as Ryan has knows: So much led to those do-or-die moments. Evans' free throws made Bruesewitz's inbound a fatal mistake. Jackson's shooting (and several other players', too) made Evans' free throws more crucial than they might have been. A lack of focus made the whole thing closer than the first minutes would have ever suggested.
It was a game marked by mistakes, some blurry, others swift kicks to the collective gut. Bruesewitz might be dwelling on his own kick, but Wisconsin would be wise to remember the blurry.
"One play doesn't make a ballgame," center Jared Berggren said. "I'm just trying to tell (Bruesewitz) to forget about it and keep playing. There's still a lot of things that can happen in the last few seconds of the game. Just tried to keep his mind in tune and keep playing hard. The game was not over at that point."
The game wasn't over, but it was back to an even playing field. It was a new game, a five-minute sprint that was thoroughly the Gophers'.
After the game, when asked about the flubbed inbounds play, Ryan brought up the fact that in addition to that one mistake, Bruesewitz has done plenty of things well this season, executed plenty of plays that led to wins. It didn't quite excuse his mistake, but it put the whole thing in perspective.
The problem, though, is that basketball is not a game of tradeoffs. A few good heaves don't excuse one mistake, and a big win, like Wisconsin's Saturday against No. 3 Michigan, does not permit a sloppy loss.
"If we execute the way we're capable of and the way we have been recently down the stretch, we probably survive and get out of here in regulation with the win," Berggren said.
And that is the bigger problem, bigger than one tiny twitch, one errant step, one isolated mistake. Basketball isn't a series of separate incidents that exist in a vacuum, but a rather chain of connected events, and on Thursday, the Badgers' had more than one broken link.