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February 14, 2012

Evans developing into star

MADISON -- Starting slow before finishing strong is nothing new for Ryan Evans.

His player profile on the Wisconsin site even notes Evans as a "self-described late bloomer." Evans was cut from his high school team as a sophomore, but put in work to earn all-state honors just two years later as a senior.

Evans signed late with the Badgers and redshirted his first year on campus. And despite playing in all 92 games of his UW career, Evans' impact was mostly limited to the defensive end for his first two seasons.

Given a more prominent role this season as a starter, Evans is showing he can get it done offensively, too.

"I think that comes with opportunity," Evans said. "Confidence comes with opportunity. I'm out there, I'm a little bit more calm. I'm not too worried about going in and out too much, and I know I got an opportunity to shoot the ball. And my teammates got confidence in me. So that gives me confidence within myself."

Evans has reached double figures in points 14 times this season, nearly doubling the his total of eight over his first two seasons.

In those games, Wisconsin has gone 12-2, with the only losses being at then-No. 5 North Carolina and at home versus No. 3 Ohio State.

Evans had a disappointing year as a sophomore, averaging just 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, compared with 3.5 points and three rebounds per contest as a freshman.

"I may as well have been cut last year as bad of a season as I had," Evans said. "I didn't really come into this season with expectations. I think that was my downfall last year. I set expectations for myself, and when they weren't getting accomplished, I was kind of going down, going down, going down. I came into this season with a positive mentality … and it's been a good run so far."

With his 14-point performance against the Buckeyes, Evans put his season average back in double figures at exactly 10 points per game. After adding another 17 at Minnesota, the junior forward is up to 10.3 points per game, putting him third on the team behind Jordan Taylor (14.5 ppg) and Jared Berggren (10.4 ppg).

In conference games, Evans is the Badgers' second-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game. Evans also ranks second behind Taylor in road contests, averaging 12.1 points.

Evans posted his first career double-double in Wisconsin's 68-61 victory at Williams Arena last week, grabbing 11 rebounds to go along with his 17 points. It was arguably the best game of Evans' career, right up there with the 22-point performance at Nebraska in December and the Northwestern game a month ago, in which Evans scored 17 points and grabbed nine boards.

"He did a lot of good things," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said of Evans following the Minnesota game. "He played a lot harder while he was on the floor in so many areas, guarding the ball, guarding the post, things like that. His presence was definitely appreciated by his teammates, I can tell you that."

Evans' does much of his offensive damage through mid-range jump shots and post moves inside.

Ryan said at his weekly press conference Monday that Evans has plenty of room to improve in all aspects of his game, but he has been taking better shots as far as his balance is concerned.

"Is a turnaround fade-away a good shot? Not really," Ryan said. "Is a strong post move a good shot? Yes. So we have a lot of guys who sometimes settle for maybe a shot where they're not completely on balance, so Ryan's in that category with 16 other guys."

While Evans has developed into a reliable scorer this season for the Badgers, his even greater value comes in other ways. Evans remains one of the strongest defenders on the Wisconsin roster, which he showed in the Ohio State game, when he guarded Jared Sullinger for much of the second half.

Evans also leads the team in rebounding, pulling down 6.8 boards per game. That total puts Evans -- at just 6-foot-6 -- fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding.

"Positioning has a lot to do with it," Evans said. "A guy like Dennis Rodman, he leads the NBA still in rebounding at I think 15-something a game. So I don't really think height poses a difficulty when it comes to rebounding.

"You've just got to get in there and put your nose in there. It's the fight in the dog, I think."

Evans takes a lot of pride in being Wisconsin's leading rebounder, using his positioning and athleticism to out-rebound bigger men.

Though he has always shown a lot of athleticism -- he may be the most athletic player on the UW roster -- it has not translated into his basketball skills in the past. Evans' shooting and ball-handling have not always been the most aesthetically pleasing aspect of his game, but he continues to improve in both areas.

Now that Evans also has some added confidence as a starter, he has developed into a star for Wisconsin. And to think, he hasn't even reached his full potential yet. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to imagine Evans averaging a double-double next year as a senior.

"It's just a matter of him knowing it was his time to step up, and he took advantage of it," Ben Brust said. "And I think he's going keep going."


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