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Notebook: Observations from Wisconsin basketball’s season-opening win

The Badgers had no problems in defeating Central Arkansas. Here are some of the key takeaways.

MADISON — A 79-47 win for the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday night against Central Arkansas was the proper way to start the season. Here are some observations from the game in tonight’s notebook:

Stingy Badgers

One look at the box score makes it pretty clear: Wisconsin’s defense stymied any upset hopes that the Bears may have had entering the game. The opposition shot 15-for-53 (28.3 percent) from the field and scored .734 points per possession. Three-point shooting actually served the Bears better percentage-wise, as they shot 37.5 percent from deep and just 9-for-37 (24.3 percent) on two-pointers.

“You watch Wisconsin on film, you watch them on television, kind of from afar as a basketball fan, and you know about their defense and how good that their reputation is,” Central Arkansas head coach Russ Pennell said. “And when you see it up close and personal, you see how good it is. They just don’t give you anything easy.

“We just couldn’t find anything tonight, any rhythm. And I credit Wisconsin with that. Their size and physicality really took over in the second half and we weren’t able to stand up next to that.”

Compared to last season’s opening game against Western Illinois when the Badgers were in scramble mode far too often on defense, they looked much more comfortable on Friday. Wisconsin hedged effectively on ball screens, prevented dribble penetration and forced difficult two-pointers throughout the night. The only real flaw on the night was 13 offensive rebounds allowed — eight of which came in the first half.

Khalil Iverson may have been the standout defender. In 15 minutes, the sophomore guard blocked three shots and played stout on-ball defense.

Pennell also pointed out guard Bronson Koenig’s defensive effort while guarding the ball as Bears guard Jordan Howard went 2-for-11 from the field on the night. Koenig also led the game with 16 points.

Trice as nice

Badgers head coach Greg Gard showed some serious confidence in freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice, sending him into the game at the 13:12 mark of the first half. Immediately, Trice notched a steal and then proceeded to turn the ball over to cap off his first-ever possession.

The freshman made a splash later in the half, though. The Bears had recently cut Wisconsin’s lead to 19-17 before a mini 5-0 run put the Badgers back up 24-17 with 5:35 to play in the first half. Trice then gave the Badgers a double-digit lead with consecutive triples for a 30-17 advantage. Central Arkansas would not get within single digits the rest of the night.

On the first, Trice appeared to look to pass instead of firing an open three. Still open from the wing after not finding a teammate, he then drained his first career field goal attempt. On the next possession, forward Alex Illikainen found Trice open against the zone. In rhythm, Trice buried it once again.

“That first turnover, I was kind of down on myself, and then they come down and get a foul and hit a couple free throws,” Trice said. “I was kind of down on myself at that point, but I knew that I had to keep playing and I knew my teammates had my back. Knocking down those shots really helped my confidence.”

Gard was impressed with much more from Trice’s night—which ended with eight points, two rebounds, one steal and three turnovers.

“The ball moves,” Gard said. “Whenever he’s been on the floor, during practice, or the Platteville game or the UNI scrimmage, the ball moves. It doesn’t stick. He really has a good feel for getting his teammates involved, he has a great understanding of the game.

“I think that was the one thing I noticed, well before the threes went in. Obviously it’s good to see that type of positive reward happen for him, for doing good things, because his teammates have been recipients of his unselfishness at times too.”

To great depths

Wisconsin used 10 players in its regular rotation on Friday night before getting to the end of the bench later in the game. Illikainen and guard Jordan Hill were the first two off the bench, followed by Trice, Iverson and Charles Thomas.

Gard was not afraid to go reserve-heavy on the floor. On multiple occasions, the Badgers were without any of their three best players — forward Nigel Hayes, guard Bronson Koenig and forward Ethan Happ — on the floor. At one point in the second half before the end result was a done deal, Wisconsin’s on-court lineup consisted of all reserves.

Illikainen (two points, four rebounds, two assists) led all reserves with 16 minutes and was followed up by Hill (six points, two assists) and Iverson (four points, three blocks) with 15 apiece. Trice logged 13 minutes and Thomas (seven points, two rebounds, two assists) played 12.