MADISON, Wis. (AP) While some teams might have foundered after losing their starting point guard, sophomore Bronson Koenig has kept No. 5 Wisconsin rolling along.
Koenig, who gained valuable experience as a freshman reserve last season during Wisconsin's run to the Final Four, was thrust into the starting role when senior Traevon Jackson suffered a broken right foot in the Badgers 67-62 loss at Rutgers on Jan. 11. Jackson had started 84 consecutive games.
Since then, Wisconsin (18-2, 6-1 Big Ten) has won three straight with Koenig at point guard, including an 82-50 rout last of week of Iowa, whom the Badgers will face again on the road Saturday, and a 69-64 overtime victory at Michigan.
''I've had to be more aggressive,'' said Koenig. ''I was just kind of in there passing the ball around, not really being aggressive, not really looking to score or making many plays. But I think my confidence has risen. I have more confidence in myself to make plays, get to the basket and take my shots.''
In the first 16 games, Koenig averaged 4.4 points and 2.1 assists in 19.8 minutes per game off the bench. Ironically, Koenig made his first career start against Rutgers alongside Jackson in a three-guard offense because center Frank Kaminsky, the team's leading scorer, was out with a concussion.
In the three games since taking over at point guard, Koenig has averaged 12.3 points, shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 52.6 from three-point range as his playing time has increased to 35.5 minutes. He has turned the ball over just three times in 142 minutes as a starter.
''He's a little more comfortable now because he's at the helm,'' said forward Sam Dekker. ''He's running the show and he's playing 36, 37 minutes a night. He knows that he's got to do a lot. He's got to get us into our offense, hit big shots, make the right pass. So, I think he's comfortable in that situation. Trey (Jackson) took him under his wing early in his career.''
Koenig said the other end of the court presented just as much of a challenge as running the offense.
''Defense isn't easy to do, especially in this league and at this level,'' he said. ''To try and do that every possession really takes a lot out of you.''
Although the Badgers are 18-7 under coach Bo Ryan against the Hawkeyes, this will be the first time Koenig has started at boisterous Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where Iowa has won two of the last three meetings. Iowa's 82-50 loss at Wisconsin last week was the most lopsided in the 160-game series that dates to 1909; the previous seven games between the two had been decided by seven points or fewer, including two in overtime.
During last week's game, ESPN analyst Dan Dakich called out Iowa center Adam Woodbury, who appeared on separate occasions to poke Kaminsky and forward Nigel Hayes in the eyes. Woodbury later said he did not deliberately poke either player.
''The media and the fans make a bigger deal out of that stuff than we do,'' said Dekker. ''That's part of basketball. You get poked in the eye, you get elbowed, you get hit with fists. That stuff happens. You just learn to handle it.''
Iowa (13-7, 4-3) could be without 6-9 forward Aaron White, the team's leading scorer and rebounder who suffered a shoulder injury in a 67-63 loss at Purdue. Reserve center Gabe Olaseni also hurt his left ankle against Purdue.
''The crowd gets into it and they play with a little more spunk at home,'' said Dekker. ''They're a good team and they'll be ready to play. They don't want to lose to us and we don't expect them to want to lose. We're expecting a good game, a tough fight against a good team.''