Brevin Pritzl's Defense Giving Wisconsin A Timely Lift

Brevin Pritzl's Defense Giving Wisconsin A Timely Lift

Basketball

Brevin Pritzl's Defense Giving Wisconsin A Timely Lift

MILWAUKEE – When he gets a final stat sheet placed in front of him, University of Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard doesn’t follow the protocol of many fans and sports journalist by looking at an individual’s points.

Instead, the third-year head coach looks at other valuable things. He thinks about how the player was engaged defensively, how physical the player was fighting through screens and attacking rebounds and the energy they brought on the floor at critical times. Over the last stretch of games, junior guard Brevin Pritzl has been doing all those things.

“You do all those little things well, maybe you don’t get the accolades or the attention, then offense has a tendency to find you,” Gard said of Pritzl. “You in turn seek offense, you don’t find it and you’ll have a hard time being consistent on all those other little things that are difference makers in terms of where you’re at at the end of the game.”

In following Gard’s logic, Pritzl being fifth on the team in averaging 6.4 points per game doesn’t tell the whole story. For a player who scored 1,720 points in high school and had the reputation as a perimeter sharpshooter, Pritzl has instead found a niche playing exceptional defense. A prime example would be last Friday’s victory at Iowa.

Mixing and matching with lineups because of foul trouble to his frontcourt, Gard had no choice but to ask 6-2 guards to try and contain 6-10 post players who will likely see their names on the all-conference team.

In what would have been a near impossible task for him in the past, Pritzl embraced the challenge since growing into his body and getting comfortable knocking heads around the rim after battling 6-8, 226-pound freshman forward Taylor Currie in practice.

“I’m a lot more physical,” Pritzl said. “I’m a lot bigger, so that gives me a chance to bang around with the big guys, box out, be bigger. A lot of it is learning techniques. It’s easy to get over ball screens once you learn how to do it. You just have to drill and drill and take pride in it.”

It’s easy to see that the pride on the defensive end is back this season for Wisconsin (8-1) heading into its road matchup at Marquette (7-2) Saturday at the Fiserv Forum. A year ago, UW allowed opponents to shoot 45.9 percent from the floor and average 66.0 points per game. Putting that number in perspective, that was the highest shooting percentage UW allowed since the 1992-93 season and the most points since the 1994-95 season.

To this point, UW ranks 24th in the NCAA having allowed 61.3 ppg and 15th in the nation with a 92.6 adjusted defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponent) per Kenpom.com

“We’ve taken pride in our defense,” Pritzl said. “It’s just about playing our way, doing what we do and execute.”

The impact Pritzl has made defensively has allowed him to get minutes while still looking to put his shot into a groove. He only had two attempts, scoring no points, in three days in the Bahamas and went only 1-for-3 in a win over N.C. State on Nov.27.

But he scored 12 points and grabbed four rebounds in that road win at Iowa, following a practice in which Gard said he couldn’t miss, and chipped in nine points and another four rebounds in Monday’s win over Rutgers.

Pritzl’s thought process? Stay ready.

“Against N.C. State I wasn’t there to hit threes,” he said. “I had to play defense, box out and get rebounds late. Just do my job and get ready to play.”

Pritzl’s collegiate career arc is similar to his newfound defensive mindset – doing it without flash. He lost his entire 2015-16 season with a broken left foot and averaged 1.9 points as a redshirt freshman. Last year when UW needed shooters, he shot under 40 percent from the field and 3-point range but started to round out his game by ranking third on the team in rebounds and tops in assist-to-turnover.

And while the shot is not quite there, it’s falling in key situations to keep Wisconsin trending back in the right direction.

“He’s just showing up in the timely possessions that we need him to,” point guard D’Mitrik Trice said. “Whether that’s hitting a big shot or getting a defensive rebound and knocking down free throws, it’s good to have him back mentally and playing at an all-time high confidence wise.”

 

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