Fresh ammo: Hayes, Koenig provide spark
STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—Where would Wisconsin be without the contributions of freshmen Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig?
Projecting UW's exact record and place in the Big Ten standings sans Hayes and Koenig is difficult.
However, it is safe to argue UW (23-5, 10-5 Big Ten) would be in worse shape than it is heading into its game at 11 a.m. today at Penn State (14-14, 5-10)—just one game out of second place and in position to secure a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tournament.
“I think without a doubt we (are) not here if those guys hadn't developed the way that they have,” UW assistant Lamont Paris said.
UW coach Bo Ryan has used an eight-man rotation in Big Ten play, and seven of the players average double-figure minutes.
Hayes is fifth at 20.5 minutes per game. Koenig is sixth at 13.7, and redshirt junior forward Duje Dukan is seventh at 6.0.
Despite hitting only four of his last 16 field-goal attempts and scoring a combined 15 points in the last three games, Hayes is shooting 53.3 percent and averaging 9.7 points per game in league play.
He leads the team in free-throw attempts in league games (83) despite playing only 20.4 minutes per game. Sam Dekker, averaging 30.9 minutes in league play, is second with 61 attempts.
Koenig has been quieter than Hayes. However, he has given UW a dependable backup to Traevon Jackson and displayed his potential by hitting 2 of 4 3-pointers and 5 of 7 shots overall in a 12-point, two-assist performance at Iowa.
“There have been some (games) where they scored a bucket, made a pass…did a lot of things to help the team win the game,” Paris said.
The next step for both is to grow on the defensive end.
Hayes has a penchant for picking up fouls by reaching and struggled early at Iowa trying to defend ball screens.
Iowa's Gabriel Olaseni got lay-ins on consecutive possessions early in the game because Hayes was out of position.
“That was just two mental breakdowns,” Hayes said. “Those were probably two of the easiest baskets Iowa had all night. I just have to make sure I don't have as many breakdowns.”
On the second basket, the UW staff screamed out “Nigel” when it was clear Hayes was out of position again. Ryan immediately called a timeout and subbed Frank Kaminsky for Hayes.
“He just attacked the ball a step too high,” UW associate head coach Greg Gard said. “That is all the room they needed to counter when we left the screener open.
“He's got to get better at that. He played it better after that.”
When asked to guard Iowa's Josh Oglesby, Koenig struggled to maintain contact while running through a series of screens.
Oglesby hit 7 of 9 field-goal attempts and scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half.
Gard noted the problems were twofold.
“That starts before he ever comes off screens and how we play screens and the rules away before those screens ever take place,” Gard said. “A lot of that is experience. He hasn't been in those situations enough yet. Hopefully he learns from that.
“But we also need to do a better job of putting pressure on the ball. We had too many times where the passer was unabated and could easily fire to a cutter coming off….
“If you can make that passer a little hesitant and he misses him or throws it a second too late, that gives your chaser a little bit more of an opportunity to be there.”
Koenig acknowledged chasing Oglesby provided a valuable lesson, as well as a good workout.
“He is really good at moving without the ball,” Koenig said. “He was running in circles and I thought: 'How do I even defend this?'
“I thought I could have tried to force him to go to one side, but even then, like I said, he runs in circles.”
The Badgers wouldn't be running in circles without Hayes and Koenig, but the rotation wouldn't be as deep and the record likely wouldn't be as gaudy.
“They are huge in our success,” redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser said. “You don't expect freshmen to come in right away and have such a huge impact. But we knew they were going to help us out a lot.
“Bronson, the past couple games, has come on strong. Nigel has been doing it all year, and we needed some guys to come in and give us some punch off the bench. Those are two of the guys doing it.”