Wisconsin is heading into the Big Ten season with perhaps its toughest player back in form.
Mike Bruesewitz returned to the starting lineup in style, scoring a season-high 13 points as the Badgers closed out their nonconference schedule with an 87-51 victory over Samford on Saturday.
Bruesewitz suffered a concussion in practice on Dec. 6, missed two games and came off the bench last Saturday in a win over Milwaukee. He was one of five players in double figures for Wisconsin (9-4), which opens Big Ten play Jan. 3 at home against Penn State.
"He's a big part of their team," Samford coach Bennie Seltzer said of Bruesewitz. "I watched a few games when he had the concussion that he wasn't in - they're a different team without him. He brings some grit and some toughness to that front line. ? It's very evident when he's not there."
Bruesewitz set the tone early, driving the lane uncontested for a dunk just 13 seconds into the game.
The high-energy senior had nine points as the Badgers opened up a 13-2 lead after just more than 5 minutes, and hit all six of his shots in the first half - the last of which was another dunk that made it 45-17. Traevon Jackson added two free throws 18 seconds before halftime as Wisconsin's lead grew to 30.
"It just goes to show how important he is to this team with the energy that he brings," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of Bruesewitz, who wasn't available for postgame interviews because he was working with an athletic trainer.
"I don't know if he's 100 percent yet, but at least in practice the past two days I saw some real good signs. ? Everybody on the team loves the fact that Mike's out there. He just brings so much energy and his teammates are comfortable with him from the standpoint that he's going to play hard all the time. And we didn't have that in some games."
Bruesewitz took only one shot in the second half, missing a 3-pointer from the right side with 16:39 to go. Frank Kaminsky matched him with 6-for-7 shooting as he led the Badgers with a career-best 16 points.
"I kept shooting it and it kept falling," said Kaminsky, a 6-foot-11 sophomore. He had been 3 for 13 in 3-pointers but made all four of his long-range shots Saturday.
Ryan Evans added 14 points and a career-high 12 rebounds, Sam Dekker scored 12 and Jared Berggren had 10 for Wisconsin, which shot 54.5 percent on 3-pointers (12 for 22), surpassed 80 points for the fifth time this season and was a point away from its season scoring high.
"We're really coming together as a team, and this is the right time to do so, going into the Big Ten," said Evans, whose team has won three in a row. "This is chess, not checkers in the Big Ten Conference. There's no room for error. You have to be on the same page as a team to be successful."
Raijon Kelly scored 16 points to lead the Bulldogs (3-11), who missed their first five shots and trailed by as many as 41.
Connor Miller, a sophomore from Stanley, Wis., added 12 points for Samford. Bulldogs freshman Tim Williams, who came in averaging a team-best 14.7 points, scored 11.
"I'm just glad we don't play Wisconsin in our league," said Seltzer, whose team resumes Southern Conference play Jan. 5 against Chattanooga. This is the seventh straight season Seltzer has coached against the Badgers, as he spent the previous four years as an assistant at Indiana following two seasons at Marquette.
Ryan was coaching two days after his mother, Louise Ryan, died in Florida. She was 86. He said he didn't consider skipping Saturday's game, especially after what his mother said to him when he saw her on Christmas Eve.
"'Is the team going to get any better?'" Bo Ryan said, recalling the conversation. "I'm like, 'Mom, we're working.' (She said), 'You really haven't looked very good.' And I had to explain we're working on some things.
"We had the chance to talk, so at least I was down there. I came back the 26th and she passed away on the 27th, but we said what we needed to say to each other. ? She was a good lady."