MADISON, Wisc. — Bronson Koenig did a lot of things well during his 37-minute debut as the starting point guard for Wisconsin.
But the sophomore couldn’t hide his displeasure about his lone turnover during the Badgers’ 70-55 victory against Nebraska on Thursday. Even with a weekend as a buffer and a new opponent on the agenda, it was the first thing Koenig mentioned on Sunday when asked to assess his performance against the Cornhuskers.
Koenig made a strong move to the basket and had a step on Nebraska’s Benny Parker, but Huskers center Walter Pitchford helped out and poked the ball loose from Koenig. It was his only major miscue during the 47 possessions he played on offense, but it was one Koenig felt could have been avoided.
Wisconsin | PG | So.
“I was just dribbling too high,” Koenig said. “I was just standing straight up. If I would have got lower, I could have gone right to the hole.”
Koenig will make his third consecutive start Tuesday when No. 6 UW (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) hosts No. 25 Iowa (13-5, 4-1) at the Kohl Center.
It’s been a seamless transition into the starting lineup for Koenig, who has scored in double figures in each of the past two games. He had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting during a 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Jan. 11 when senior center Frank Kaminsky was out with a concussion and finished with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting vs. Nebraska in UW’s first game without senior point guard Traevon Jackson, who will be out until at least mid-February with a broken right foot.
“He’s just got to take it a day at a time and do things the right way,” UW junior forward Sam Dekker said of Koenig. “I think he’s got a good mindset now of what he’s doing. He’s pretty comfortable.
“He’s talented enough. He’s as talented as any point guard I’ve ever played with. He’s definitely good enough to lead this team into a deep stretch. The next step for him is getting us prepared for Iowa. He’s going to do some really big things the rest of this year.”
UW coach Bo Ryan was asked Monday about the next step in Koenig’s development in his expanded role.
“Just continue to lead the team, have people believe in him,” Ryan said. “All the point guards we’ve ever had, that’s been one of the most important qualities of the position. I was always told as a point guard that a lot of what the team does is going to depend how you handle yourself on the court, how you bring the guys together.
“They don’t have to score a lot, they don’t have to be screamers, they don’t have to be in-your-face type of guys, but I’ve had some that have been like that. Toughness of character, guys that don’t get too high, too low.”
Ryan encouraged Koenig during Monday’s practice to take charge of the huddle during a break in action. Being more vocal is something Koenig admits is a work in progress.
“It’s just like anything else — you just have to work on it,” Koenig said on Monday. “Today in practice, I was kind of feeling tired, I didn’t really want to do so much and coach Ryan said something about that. I’ve just got to keep working on it every day. It’ll come eventually.”
In high-school, Koenig excelled at beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint, where he could either score on his own or pass to an open teammate.
Koenig has yet to show that part of his game on a consistent basis on the college level, but he knows it’s there. UW associate head coach Greg Gard said he’d like to see Koenig be more aggressive and advance toward the rim as opposed to moving sideways.
Or, as Gard put it: More north and south, less east and west.
— Sam Dekker
“I can get past guys,” Koenig said. “It’s just a matter of getting myself lower at this level, so guys can’t knock me off [balance] and then finishing through contact.”
Still, the Wisconsincoaching staff has been encouraged by Koenig’s decision-making and how much he values the ball. He has a 4.1-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season, with just nine turnovers in 385 minutes of action.
Taking care of the ball will be a challenge against the Hawkeyes, who likely will use a full-court press and various traps at times to cause turnovers.
To get ready for Iowa’s length — the Hawkeyes’ frontcourt features a pair of athletic, 6-foot-9 forwards in Aaron White and ex-Badger Jarrod Uthoff — UW practiced against a six-man press on Monday. It gave the Badgers a different look against a scout team that was missing freshman forward Ethan Happ, who is out with a sprained right ankle.
Handling Iowa’s pressure will require a team effort, but Koenig knows much of the responsibility will fall on his shoulders. He’s fine with that, too.
“A point guard’s job,” Koenig said, “is taking care of the ball and kind of controlling tempo and not turning it over and just getting people the ball in positions to score and make plays.”
Koenig knows he can’t be shy about shooting, either. He went through a slump earlier this season but has gone 21 of 36 (58.3 percent) overall from the field and 10 of 19 (52.6 percent) from 3-point range over his past nine games.
“Now, I just feel like I’m not really thinking about it,” said Koenig, who is shooting 58.3 percent from beyond the arc in Big Ten play. “I’m not aiming it like I used to because before I didn’t really know when my next shot was going to be, so I’d try to aim it when I would shoot. But now I’m just kind of letting it go.”
This article was written by Jim Polzin from The Wisconsin State Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.