The Wisconsin men's basketball team opened its exhibition schedule in impressive fashion Saturday, cruising past UW-River Falls 79-52 before a crowd of 17,142 at the Kohl Center.
The Badgers charged out of the gates, scoring eight unanswered points, and never looked back. Midway through the first half, Bo Ryan's squad led 26-4.
"I don't want to use the word intimidated, I just think scared is a little bit better word," River Falls head coach Rick Bowen said of his team's mentality in the early going.
The UW lead would grow to 30 by the 5:55 mark, when a Brian Butch jumper put the Badgers on top 36-6. River Falls closed out the half on a 5-0 run, but the Badgers entered the intermission with a 41-17 advantage.
Though his squad trailed by 24 points at the half, Bowen indicated after the game that it could have been even worse.
"I thank Bo for calling off the dogs very early," Bowen said.
After cycling through all 15 players in the first half, Ryan continued to experiment with personnel combinations in the second stanza. River Falls hung with the Badgers for much of the second half — Wisconsin out-scored River Falls by just three points (38-35) after the intermission — but the damage was done.
The Falcons chipped away at times, but never cut the lead to less than 20 points. After River Falls had whittled the advantage to 21 with 10 minutes to play, Wisconsin regained the momentum and staged a 12-2 run to claim its largest lead of the night, 73-42, with just over five minutes on the clock.
Fittingly, the bucket that gave the Badgers their largest lead of the night was the one that most dramatically illustrated the difference in athleticism between the two teams. After coming up with a steal at midcourt, junior Kammron Taylor passed the ball off the backboard and redshirt freshman DeAaron Williams slammed it home to put an exclamation point on the victory and send the Grateful Red into hysteria.
"You have to understand the difference in the athletic ability," Bowen said. "I thought that was very obvious in the first half."
Wisconsin's size, speed and athleticism were simply too much for the scrappy Falcons.
Bowen conceded after the game that River Falls harbored no illusions about its chances against the Badgers, but Ryan noted the Falcons' unrelenting intensity on both ends of the floor.
"We weren't playing against the size that we'll see later, but we were playing against tenacity that we might not see later either," Ryan said. "River Falls just came in, they didn't care who they were playing, they just came in and played hard."
"It was rough," forward Alando Tucker said. "You might look at the score and think that the game wasn't tough; they were solid."
Ryan used a four-forward lineup for much of the night, overpowering the undersized and overmatched Falcons. With forwards Jason Chappell (6-foot-10), Brian Butch (6-foot-11), Alando Tucker (6-foot-5) and Ray Nixon (6-foot-8) all in the starting lineup along with point guard Kammron Taylor, the Badgers quickly made a statement down low against a River Falls squad that features just one player listed over 6-foot-7.
Ryan used every player at his disposal in the first half, but did not put two traditional guards on the floor together until the 6:10 mark, when Tanner Bronson entered the game alongside Michael Flowers. Flowers and Taylor alternated minutes at the point throughout the evening, each generally playing with four forwards.
Taylor, who earned the start at point guard, finished with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes of action. He had three assists and three turnovers on the day.
Flowers, in 14 minutes on the floor, scored three points on 1-of-3 shooting and finished with one assist and one turnover.
After the game, Bowen was unable to evaluate the play of the UW backcourt because his own team was so overmatched from a physical standpoint.
"You're comparing apples and oranges of the Badger guards against our guards," Bowen said.
Often playing with just one guard on the floor, Wisconsin finished with 19 assists and 13 turnovers. River Falls had 13 assists and 19 turnovers on the night. The result was a 26-10 advantage for the Badgers in points off turnovers.
The four-forward lineup allowed the Badgers to dominate inside, out-scoring the Falcons 36-18 in the paint and grabbing a 42-34 edge on the boards.
The Badgers also used their speed to get out in transition. Wisconsin was willing to run, even with four forwards on the floor, as Tucker and freshman Joe Krabbenhoft each led a break during the first half.
Tucker led the way with 18 points and seven rebounds (four on the offensive glass) in 21 minutes and Butch added 12 points and four rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting in 19 minutes. The leading newcomer was forward Marcus Landry, who put up 11 points and six rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting in 16 minutes on the floor.
Though the result was lopsided, Ryan feels his team got a much more constructive matchup in River Falls than in past exhibitions against teams like the EA Sports squad.
"That's why we play these types of teams; they'll run offense," Ryan said. "It's not EA Sports."
"They set more screens in the first possession than … the last couple foreign teams that we had in here," Ryan added. "That's why we play. If we're going to play exhibition games, let's play these kind of teams."