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March 1, 2012

Redshirts have paid off for Berggren, Evans

MADISON -- How many schools have ever redshirted a McDonald's All-American? It's a rhetorical question.

And one that Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan posed last week.

Ryan had been asked about his program's propensity to redshirt players. So he referred to former Badgers star Brian Butch, who sat out his first year on campus in 2003-04. The decision paid off in a big way for Butch and UW, as the Appleton native improved throughout his career and finished as a consensus all-Big Ten first team pick as a fifth-year senior.

Had he played during his first year on campus, it's unlikely Butch ever would have reached the same levels he did during his final season at Wisconsin.

Butch was not the first UW forward to choose the redshirt option, and he certainly will be far from the last to do so as well. In fact, a pair of redshirt juniors has developed into a major part of this season's Wisconsin squad.

When they arrived on campus in 2008, both Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans decided it was in their best interests to sit out a year before suiting up for the Badgers. Some of that may have had to do with a pair of forwards named Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil.

A lot more probably had to do with Berggren and Evans -- like Butch -- simply not being physically ready for the demands of Big Ten basketball. Three years later, they're both excelling as starters for Wisconsin.

"Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and other guys that we've had redshirt, it's paid off," Ryan said. "Guys get stronger, they get acclimated to the university, to the regimen that you have to go through. College is not easy for these guys.

"Getting adjusted to college, for a lot of these guys, sometimes that freshman year just goes by and they hardly even played, and they wish they would've had a fifth year.

This season, Berggren and Evans have averaged a combined 21.1 points, 12 rebounds, 2.23 assists and 2.7 blocks per game.

Evans has reached double-digits in scoring in nine straight games for UW, while Berggren has posted 10-or-more points 15 times this season.

Berggren most recently hit double digits Sunday at Ohio State, when he had arguably the best game of his career to date. Going toe-to-toe with Jared Sullinger, Berggren put up 18 points, grabbed five rebounds, and more importantly, limited the Buckeyes' big man to just eight points on the other end.

With 31 seconds to go in the game, Berggren also hit a huge 3-pointer, putting Wisconsin ahead by two points and in excellent position for the eventual 63-60 victory.

"It's always good to get a couple of shots to drop like that," Berggren said. "And get a good win, especially on the road against a good team like that.

"I was able to knock down some shots, and hopefully we can keep some things going off of that."

Berggren has done it before. And he's shown plenty of potential to perform the way he did against Sullinger and Ohio State. The only thing that really has slowed Berggren is an inability to consistently perform at that level in games.

But that is fairly understandable for a redshirt junior in his first full season as a starter.

While may not have followed that OSU performance up well -- scoring just five points Tuesday against Minnesota -- Berggren has developed this season into a significant scoring threat for UW, as well as a strong shot blocker on the defensive end.

Now, with such an impressive performance at Ohio State to his credit, Berggren looks poised for a big month of March.

"Jared can do that. That's what he can bring to the table," Jordan Taylor said. "It's just something that we've got to try to make more consistent.

"I think he knows that if you can do what he did [Sunday] against Jared Sullinger, who's arguably the best player in the country, then he can do that against anybody. He's known that since last year, I think.

"He's really talented. He's been really talented. And he waited his turn. For him now, it's just something he's got to do night in and night out. The sky's the limit for him."

Evans is the Badgers' leading rebounder, and his scoring average has remained at 9.4 points per game or higher the entire season. Yet, he's likely the third, or even fourth or fifth, name that comes to mind when thinking of Wisconsin.

The obvious players for opponents to be concerned about are Jordan Taylor and Berggren. Then there's Mike Bruesewitz and Josh Gasser, who each established themselves as threats last season.

But Evans has come on strong this year, especially since the start of Big Ten play.

"He's taking the shots that are in his range; he's taking better shots from that standpoint," Ryan said. "The shots going down, that's one thing. But there's so much more to the game, and he's working on every phase. But he's taking better shots, he's getting better looks."

Evans had his first career double-double at Minnesota, scoring 17 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. He added another at Ohio State with 10 and 10, and has been just a rebound or two shy several other times this season.

Just before that performance against the Gophers, Evans attributed his improved play to having more confidence as a result of his starting every game this season.

"I think that comes with opportunity," Evans said. "Confidence comes with opportunity. I'm out there, I'm a little bit more calm. I'm not too worried about going in and out too much, and I know I got an opportunity to shoot the ball. And my teammates got confidence in me. So that gives me confidence within myself."


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