The Badgers put their collective foot on the gas and did not let up for even a second Wednesday, winning their final exhibition game 80-47 over UW-Superior. Wisconsin received points from 11 different players, three of whom finished in double figures. Center Keaton Nankivil led the scoring with 16.
Despite putting 80 points on the board, it was the Badger defense that stole the show and led to an easy victory. The Yellowjackets' leading scorer, Marcus Helland, notched just 12 points, and he was the only player for Superior to finish in double figures. The team was held to 31 percent shooting on the evening, and the Badgers forced a remarkable 24 turnovers, which they converted into 24 points.
Even with a 42-24 halftime lead, Wisconsin never let up defensively, limiting Superior to 23 second-half points. Head coach Bo Ryan said he wouldn't have it any other way.
"That's the only way to play," Ryan said. "There were a lot of deflections and tips, and Pop [Trevon Hughes] was able to get the loose balls by being active. That means we're playing hard."
Speaking of Hughes, his arsenal appears as complete as it has ever been in his Badger career. The senior point guard recorded nine assists and did not turn the ball over. He also had an astounding ten steals on the other end. Hughes has run the offense with poise and distributed the ball well during the preseason. He seems to be trusting his teammates more and keeping defenses off-balance.
The Badgers had a tremendous size advantage over the Yellowjackets, and Nankivil and forward Jon Leuer took full advantage. The two big men combined for 30 points and contributed to a 50-14 advantage in the paint. Leuer, perhaps channeling his head coach, was still not completely satisfied.
"We aren't there yet obviously," Leuer said. "Even tonight we struggled finishing around the basket. But we are getting there, and that's the biggest difference from last year to this year."
Ryan again counted on redshirt freshman Ryan Evans and sophomore Rob Wilson as his primary relievers off the bench. Evans and Wilson played 21 and 17 minutes, respectively, and combined for 12 points. Evans added three blocks, one week after recording five against Bemidji State. Leuer doesn't expect the team's reliance on its youngsters to wane once the regular season begins.
"I definitely think that's going to be one of our strengths this year," Leuer said. "Especially having depth from the three, four, five spot, you have somebody that can come and back you up once you have done your job."
The only consistently sore spot for Wisconsin in the preseason has been outside shooting. The Badgers finished a dreadful 3-of-19 from beyond the arc, with sharpshooter Jason Bohannon sinking just 2-of-8 and Tim Jarmusz again struggling with his shot. To hear Nankivil tell it, however, the team is not too concerned just yet.
"I think that shooting is one of the easiest things to improve just because it's just time and repetition," Nankivil said. "Some of the other stuff that we are also doing well is all the preseason work. With the defense and all of that, it's probably better at this point to be shooting a lower percentage and playing better at other stuff than it is to be hitting all of our shots and not doing well at other stuff."
Much has been made of the widespread improvement of the Big Ten, with most experts pegging Wisconsin to finish around seventh in the conference. This is despite the Badgers never finishing lower than fourth in Ryan's eight years at the helm. While one might expect the players in red and white to feel confident, count Superior interim head coach Logan Flora among the outsiders impressed with Bo's squad.
"They are such a very fundamentally sound team," Flora said. "They are always in position and they work extremely hard. We can learn from the tape, watching them.