MADISON—Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan calmly denied that there was any significant change in the intensity his team exhibited when they overwhelmed Indiana, 72-54, Wednesday night, ending a three-game losing streak and earning a fresh shot at the top of the Big Ten, as the Badgers pulled within a game of first-place Iowa.
“They’ve been playing hard,” Ryan said. “This definitely wasn’t harder, our guys haven’t played soft yet.”
The Badgers, though, significantly changed their lineup, and benefited from the adjustment.
Ryan altered his starting lineup for the first time all season, giving sophomore guard Michael Flowers first career start in place of forward Brian Butch, who is limited by an ankle injury that kept him out of practice Monday.
“It was the lineup that had the most repetitions in practice and I liked what that line-up did,” Ryan said of the smaller starting squad. Flowers finished the night with six points and seven rebounds, but his minutes were limited to 26 due to foul trouble.
Butch played just eight minutes, and starting center Jason Chappell was held to six minutes because of quick fouls early in each half.
As a result, freshman walk-on Kevin Gullikson played a career-high 24 minutes against Indiana, and he took full advantage of the opportunity. The freshman’s performance against Hoosier senior forward Marco Killingsworth was his best yet.
“We got a great lift from Kevin Gullikson,” forward Alando Tucker said. “You know, he is a guy that is giving us an unfound energy that we didn’t have before coming into this game. He’s getting some quality minutes.”
Killingsworth is Indiana’s leading scorer and his 6-foot-8 frame carries a whopping 270 pounds. At the Kohl Center he fouled out midway through the second half, partly thanks to Gullikson’s aggressive play. Gullikson was responsible for drawing the fifth foul on Killingsworth with 8:16 left in the game.
“I was just trying to work hard to try to not let him get the ball,” Gullikson said. “Our teammates we were all working hard together. So, we just got the job done today.”
Gullikson, who stands 6-7, 210, scored seven points and got seven rebounds. They weren’t easy grabs as four of them were on the offensive glass. In the first half, Gullikson followed up one of his offensive rebounds with a 3-point play. In the second half, an offensive rebound led to an assist to freshman forward Joe Krabbenhoft, who converted a layup with 14:31 on the clock, and drew Killingsworth’s fourth foul in the process for another 3-point play.
“Kevin Gullikson, he just did everything,” Ryan said. “He beat people to spots, made it tough for Killingsworth as much as possible—as much as you can with a guy like him. And he got on the glass, he got some offensive boards. Four offensive rebounds, that’s pretty good for a guy of his size.”
His numbers against IU were especially good for a freshman walk-on. Even though Gullikson selflessly credits his teammates when asked about his own remarkable performance, he went home with a priceless keepsake—the game ball.
“It was a toss-up if I gave out game balls to Kevin or Tanner [Bronson] but I told Tanner I wouldn’t give it to him because he missed a couple free throws. That was the best reaction that I got from the players in the locker room in about five or six games,” said Ryan, who insisted that his players booed him good-naturedly.
Bronson played a career-high 12 minutes—holding his own with Flowers on the bench—and the Kohl Center was at its loudest when he drained his first career 3.