Badgers avenge last year's loss to Phoenix, sweep in-state rivals
MADISON, Wis. - That's more like it.
A year after heading north to Green Bay during a heavy snowstorm and suffering a stunning overtime loss to the Phoenix, the Badgers' all-time record in the series improved to 16-1 with a 70-56 win over UW-Green Bay (4-7) Monday at the Kohl Center.
Despite the game selling out as usual, frigid Madison temperatures and students' impending exams kept many fans away from Dayton Street.
They missed a solid win for Wisconsin (9-2), which rode the shooting of its big men to a sweep of the team's in-state rivals. The Badgers made quick work of UW-Milwaukee, Marquette and Green Bay, picking up three non-conference wins in six days.
Keaton Nankivil, Jon Leuer and Mike Bruesewitz combined to make nine of the Badgers' 10 three-pointers. While the guards struggled to get going, the three starting forwards scored 56 of the team's 70 points. Only six Badgers scored, and two players, Josh Gasser and Tim Jarmusz, contributed just two points apiece.
Jordan Taylor had an off night shooting but found his open big men to the tune of six assists. Leuer, Bruesewitz and Nankivil took advantage of their open looks, combining to go 17-for-26 from the floor and 9-for-13 from beyond the arc. The Badgers made 10 of their 17 shots from beyond the arc.
"Guarded or unguarded, 10 of 17 is a pretty good day shooting it," Phoenix head coach Brian Wardle said. "We've had teams shoot 14 of 25 on us this year. For some reason we were a step slow, maybe just a little bit hesitant. That's something we've got to get better at."
Bruesewitz' 18 points were a career high. Wardle told his defense to focus on Leuer and Nankivil and force the red-headed sophomore to beat them. Bruesewitz responded to the challenge, showing that an occasional offensive outburst is just as much a part of his arsenal as relentless energy and hustle.
"I haven't been surprised at all," Nankivil said. "We get to play each other all summer and I think the difference between Mike his freshman year and now is that he feels so confident in what he is doing now. All summer, he was one of the toughest matchups day-in and day-out with the number of things he can do and how hard he plays. I think all of the guys on the team knew what he was capable of."
"Any time we can get good production and get things going like Mike and Keaton did tonight, it's just another dimension for our team," Leuer said. "That just puts pressure on the defense. You don't know who to help off of. We're a pretty dynamic team when we have all of these good parts working."
Green Bay refused to go down easily, and the Badgers led by just four points with 6:09 to play in the first half. A 14-4 run, highlighted by a combined 10 points from Leuer and Bruesewitz, widened the margin as halftime approached, and Wisconsin took a comfortable 33-21 lead into the locker room.
"We had a five-minute span that really cost us the game," Wardle said. "I thought the last five minutes in the first half, where we broke down defensively and we took a few bad shots, killed our rhythm."
"We kind of built some energy and some momentum," Leuer said. "We knew that was a point in the game where we wanted to make a few good plays happen, and we knew we needed to do that."
The Phoenix cut the lead to eight with 5:35 left in the game, and that's when the forwards took over again. Bruesewitz, Leuer and Nankivil combined to score nine of the Badgers' final 11 points, many from the charity stripe. The team made 18 of 22 from the line. Green Bay attempted just seven free throw attempts.
Rob Wilson played just one minute and missed his only field goal attempt when he drove the lane wildly and got stuffed. Ryan quickly benched him at the next timeout. On a night when the other guards struggled offensively, Wilson's lack of playing time is telling.
The Badgers now get a break from competition for final exams. The team returns to action at the Kohl Center December 23 against Coppin State, which will end a mercilessly bland home non-conference schedule. With a treacherous Big Ten slate looming, it is not a bad time for some rest.
By the time classes resume following winter break, we will have a pretty good idea of whether the 2010-11 Badgers are a legitimate threat to win the conference. Two games against Illinois as well as matchups against Minnesota at home and Michigan State in East Lansing should tell us what we want to know.