Rise of the Gullikson

(Nathaniel Greenbaum/2007)

Averaging only 6.3 minutes per game entering the night, junior Kevin Gullikson comes off the bench to register a season-high nine points in 20 minutes of action in Wisconsin's win Saturday night.

MADISON – When you think bench depth on the Wisconsin basketball team, junior Kevin Gullikson's name isn't the first name to pop on the radar screen.

On Saturday evening, Gullikson made sure his name popped into the mind of the coaching staff.

The Stillwater, Minnesota native played 20 minutes on Saturday night against UW-Green Bay, scoring a season-high nine points and three rebounds off the bench to help the Badgers to a 70-52 victory.

Gullikson finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and 1-for-1 from the free throw line.

"If Kevin is going to keep doing this," head coach Bo Ryan said, "that's a great contribution made by an individual for the team."

With ironmen Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry eating up minutes game in and game out and the emergence of freshman Jon Leuer into the rotation, Gullikson became a part of the backlog of forwards on the Badger bench at the start of the season.

Although playing in eight of the Badgers nine games entering the night, Gullikson played over 10 minutes only once, averaging a minuscule six minutes per game and was used primarily to give Krabbenhoft, Landry or Greg Stiemsma a breather.

But with Jon Leuer not dressing for the game with an apparent lower left foot injury, Gullikson was option number one off the bench for Ryan.

"I wouldn't have put him in there if we didn't think he could (play)," Ryan said. "He's practicing well. He'd doing some really good things. His first couple years, he was streaky in some areas. He just plays hard, practices hard, wants to get out on the floor and when he does, he takes advantage of it."

It's been a challenging road for Gullikson over the last two seasons. Thrust into duty his freshman year when Landry and Stiemsma were ruled academically ineligible, Gullikson established career highs in points (12 against Minnesota) and rebounds (seven against Indiana). With that type of output, Gullikson was thought to be a major factor in Wisconsin's national title run a season ago.

But with the return of Landry and Stiemsma to the rotation, Gullikson went back to being a small role player, playing an average of five minutes in 24 games.

That hasn't stopped Gullikson from being a valuable asset to the team in his three years at Wisconsin. A player his teammates describe as one of the hardest workers in practice, Gullikson, or Captain America as he is often called, runs the scout team with the same intensity that he plays with, soaking up the valuable knowledge that is presented to him along the way.

"Being able to play on the scout team (and) try new things, you learn a lot of things," Gullikson said. "Being in my third year, I've gained a lot of experience over the last two years and that has definitely helped me."

From his teammate's perspective, Gullikson, whether preparing them in practice or churning out buckets in the game, has been a valuable commodity in the growth of the team.

"Everybody on the team knows that Kevin belongs out there and we need him out there," Joe Krabbenhoft said. "In certain cases where we need a lift on the defensive end, Kevin always knows where he is supposed to be and can give us points on the offensive end. We know he can play."

Because of that hard work he has shown in practice and the production that he continues to produce when called upon, Gullikson, a walk-on his freshman year, earned a scholarship before the 06-07 season, using his newfound reward to earn Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2007.

"He's a guy that's appreciative of getting a scholarship and came here because of what we can offer academically and to get a chance to play on our basketball team," Ryan said. "He didn't ask for anything but a chance. I am glad that we found him and he found us."

With 10 Badger forwards and centers on the roster and Ryan still tinkering with lineups and rotations before conference season starts, there are plenty of Wisconsin players eager for an opportunity to bring talent to the floor.

With the Badgers having enough talent on its bench to get quality minutes and points from anyone on any given night, Saturday night turned out to Gullikson's opportunity to shine and he took advantage of it.

"All these guys on the team are hungry for opportunities to show some energy," Gullikson said. "That was what I was presented with tonight."

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