Freshman pair steals spotlight from Nixon on Senior Day

first_imgMEGHAN CONLIN/Herald photoThe UW men’s basketball team’s 80-74 victory over Minnesota Sunday marked the final home game for the team’s lone senior, forward Ray Nixon.And while his seven-point performance didn’t turn any heads in the Kohl Center, it’s been the way he has handled himself over his career that has made a lasting impression.”He’s a college athlete that took advantage of an opportunity,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “That doesn’t make great drama, I’m sure, for some people.”Although Nixon’s story may not be dramatic, it is rather admirable.Nixon could’ve gone to several other universities and possibly played more minutes than he has in his time here, but he had a goal in mind when coming to Wisconsin.Even when he didn’t play much as a freshman, he stayed true to his plan.”Ray just wanted to be at Wisconsin and play and get his degree here,” Ryan said. “I’ll coach those guys forever. Those are the kind of guys I want playing for me.”Ray’s a class act, always has been,” he added. “He promised his parents and family what he was going to do, and some people just don’t make a big deal out of it. They just do it.”For Alando Tucker, Sunday’s game was just the way he wanted to send Nixon out and honor his teammate and close friend of the last four years.”It was his day,” Tucker said. “It was great. To see the things that he’s accomplished over the four years from not playing very much [in] the first two years and sticking with it.”Bench contributions: Certainly none of the Badgers were trying to overshadow Nixon on Senior Day, but Ryan’s bench may have done just that.Forward Kevin Gullikson continues to make great strides in just his freshman season and arguably had his best game of the year Sunday with a career-high 12 points.”He was opportunistic and he worked for rebounding position that he was able to get,” Ryan said. “He got on a little run there and had some good energy.”Another freshman, forward Joe Krabbenhoft, also had a solid game coming off the bench Sunday.Krabbenhoft posted his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds — just another sign of how well he has adjusted to the collegiate game since first stepping on campus.”He did a great job of keeping everything out in front of him and banging hard and playing hard,” Ryan said. “His results were better tonight than the other game (against Minnesota).”Krabbenhoft’s play has reassured himself of his abilities, and, as a result, he feels he has settled into his role on the team.”I try not to view myself as a freshman anymore,” Krabbenhoft said. “I’ve got to put that freshman business behind and just play. It doesn’t matter what age you are. Ray’s a senior doing his thing and (Gullikson and I) are a couple of young guys helping in, chipping in to keep getting those wins.”Free throws made the difference: The Badgers bounced back against Minnesota following their 62-51 loss to Northwestern last Thursday, and the difference was getting to the free throw line.In the game against the Wildcats, Wisconsin was rather passive with its offensive penetration and only got to the free-throw line 18 times.Come Sunday, the Badgers made a conscious effort to get to the rim and, thus, shoot more free throws.And they did so with a staggering 36 attempts from the charity stripe.With the Gophers hitting six more field goals than Wisconsin, there was no doubt the Badgers’ ability to get to the free throw line was the key to victory.”We did a much better job today than some other games of getting in position and getting post feeds or getting people off their feet — that’s how you get to the line and then play with the lead,” Ryan said. “We have lost a couple of games because Michigan and Northwestern, they don’t miss a free throw down the stretch, and we just closed out on one the same way.”last_img