CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — It appeared as though Nate Reuvers didn’t have his legs under him during a home loss to Northwestern last week.
It wasn’t a mirage, according to the freshman forward for the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team.
“I did not feel great in that game,” Reuvers said.
Three days later, Reuvers played arguably his best game to date in UW’s 68-63 loss at Maryland. Reuvers finished with a career-high 13 points, including 10 in the second half to help UW make it a game after trailing by double digits at halftime.
Why the difference in energy from one game to the next? Reuvers shrugged his shoulders and said he had no excuses.
If there’s such a thing as a freshman wall — and, yes, he’s heard of it — Reuvers might be finding out the difficulty in plowing his way through it.
But the Maryland game was a good sign and gave Reuvers a boost of confidence as the Badgers (10-15, 3-9 Big Ten) get set to take on Illinois (12-12, 2-9) tonight at the State Farm Center.
“He’s playing more minutes, it’s wearing on his body more than anything,” UW assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “Physically, I think it’s taken a little bit of a toll here on him. But give him credit, I think mentally, he fought through that better than he had in previous games.”
It’s important to remember that Reuvers is 20 games into his college career. He’d be redshirting this season if not for reasons beyond his control.
What little gas Reuvers had in his tank heading into the Northwestern game was siphoned out while banging bodies with Wildcats center Dererk Pardon, a junior who outweighs Reuvers by 20 pounds. Pardon finished with a game-high 17 points on 8-for-8 shooting in Northwestern’s 60-52 victory.
Krabbenhoft believes Reuvers learned from that experience and will be better equipped to fight through fatigue issues as he gets older and stronger.
“It comes with age and experience,” Krabbenhoft said. “But even Ethan (Happ) at times could do a little bit better of fighting through it mentally. But a guy like Ethan has been through it, so you don’t notice it as much as you do with Nate. You’re like, ‘Man, Nate looks exhausted out there.’ We probably won’t be saying that about Nate when he’s a junior or a senior as much as you do now.”
Krabbenhoft said UW coach Greg Gard asked for more out of Reuvers leading into the game against Maryland. The coaching staff was pleased with how the rookie responded to that challenge, particularly when the Badgers needed a boost after halftime.
After Happ went to the bench with his third foul and the Terrapins scored to extend their lead to 38-31 with 15 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the game, Reuvers posted up on the left block and scored with a left-handed hook shot after using a drop step to create space.
Two minutes later, Reuvers scored four points in one possession. He crashed the glass, grabbed a miss by Brad Davison and scored on a putback while getting fouled. After Reuvers missed the free throw, UW grabbed the offensive rebound and he capped off the possession by putting in his own miss.
Those six points helped UW outscore Maryland 13-8 in the 6:21 Happ spent on the bench in foul trouble.
“Big lift for us,” Krabbenhoft said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t win, but he made a good spark for us.”
Reuvers continues to struggle with his outside shot. He was a 47 percent shooter from 3-point range as a senior last season at Lakeville North High School in the Minneapolis area, but he’s only 10 of 34 (29.4 percent) thus far with the Badgers.
What’s encouraging is Reuvers hasn’t been hesitant to shoot when presented with quality opportunities. He missed a wide-open look on the opening possession of the game against Maryland before draining a semi-contested 3-pointer from almost the exact same spot two possessions later.
“I know I’m a shooter,” he said. “The percentages may not show it, but if I’m open I’m going to shoot it.
“You can’t get down on yourself and start freaking out, or otherwise you’re not going to make the next one.”
Reuvers knows how important being resilient is, whether it’s bouncing back from missed shots or plugging away during a five-game losing streak. The Maryland game was another opportunity for the Badgers to grab a much-needed win, but they couldn’t finish off the Terrapins.
“Those are fun games to play in,” Reuvers said. “Tied it up with like (1:30) left. I don’t think we’ve really won any of those this season. We’ve got to figure that out.”