Freshman test: Big Ten dents Badgers' Hayes, Koenig
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MINNEAPOLIS--Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig don’t want to be viewed as passive freshmen satisfied with making contributions both minimal and periodical.
After almost 20 games at Wisconsin, Hayes and Koenig believe they must play more efficiently and more consistently, beginning when No. 9 UW (16-2, 3-2 Big Ten) faces host Minnesota (14-5, 3-3) at 8 p.m. today.
“We know that we need to do a little bit more,” Hayes said when asked about UW’s reserves, “especially myself with all the minutes I get out there.
“Not being selfish at all. I’m a willing passer and it’s all about the team, but I need to make sure that I’m scoring the ball to help my team out…
“I need to be in there getting points….I’ve got to make sure I’m a little more aggressive in there.”
Hayes has played in all 18 games and has the most minutes among UW’s top three reserves with 277. Koenig, who has played in every game but the opener, is next in line at 263. Junior forward Duje Dukan is third at 186 and has played in every game.
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Hayes is averaging 10.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in Big Ten play.
However, he struggled defensively and finished with six points, two rebounds and two turnovers in 14 minutes in the loss at Indiana. He had seven points, two rebounds and three fouls in 16 minutes in the loss to Michigan.
Hayes also was victimized by Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, who hit a step-back 3-pointer with 48.2 seconds left to give the Wolverines a 71-67 lead.
“I played it the way I thought was the best way to play it, which was to try and bait him to come inside,” Hayes said, noting that even if Stauskas scored in the lane UW’s deficit would have been only three points. “That is a great shot by him.”
Koenig is averaging 2.6 points and 1.0 assist in Big Ten play. He is shooting only 14.3 percent from 3-point range (1 of 7) and 35.7 percent overall (5 of 14). He missed all four field-goal attempts, including three 3-pointers, at Indiana.
“I feel like I rushed my shots,” said Koenig, who in all games is shooting 30.8 percent from three-point range and 46.2 percent overall.
Koenig aggravated a back injury during practice Friday and, coupled with an illness that affected several players last week, didn’t attempt a shot in four minutes against the Wolverines on Saturday.
“I really don’t know what I did,” Koenig said when asked about his back, which gave him problems during preseason workouts. “I just made a move and that kind of triggered it.
“I am looking forward to bouncing back. I am looking forward to having a breakout game. In my mind I haven’t really had one this year yet and I feel like I am capable.
“Having two freshmen in the rotation…I feel like it is late enough in the season that we should be bringing a lot of energy off the bench.”
Dukan was a non-factor against Illinois and Indiana but was active in six minutes against Michigan with two points, a steal and a rebound.
“He brought a spark off the bench,” center Frank Kaminsky said, “energy when we needed it.”
Freshman forward Vitto Brown, who has played a total of 6 minutes in two league games, worked with the top rotation during practice Thursday, Friday, Monday and again Tuesday.
But it remains unclear whether he will allow UW coach Bo Ryan to extend his regular rotation to nine players.
After Koenig and Hayes struggled in the loss at Indiana, UW associate head coach Greg Gard noted it was their first test in a hostile Big Ten road venue.
“Remember those two guys are freshmen,” he said. “They’ve had some experience here (but) I think they both got their eyes opened up a little bit in terms of how it is going to be in league play, intensity and the loudness of the venues.
“Now that they’ve seen it, hopefully there is some maturity there that continues to take place.”
Minnesota’s Williams Arena is no picnic for freshmen or seniors. Koenig and Hayes believe it is time they start performing more like the latter group.