Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Badgers face young UNLV squad in opener Saturday

After dominating the EA Sports All-Stars and Athletes in Action in two exhibition games at the Kohl Center, Badger men’s basketball will open its season in Las Vegas against the UNLV Running Rebels.

This Saturday’s contest will also officially mark the first game of Badger head coach Bo Ryan’s career at Wisconsin.

The scenario will be the same for the Rebels as well. Saturday’s game will mark UNLV’s regular season opener as well as head coach Charlie Spoonhour’s first game with the Rebels.

In exhibition games, UNLV beat the EA Sports West All-Stars 96-68 before losing 73-69 Tuesday to the Global Sports All-Stars.

The loss will leave Spoonhour hungry for a win with his new team this weekend as he continues his return to college basketball. Spoonhour spent two years away from the game as a college basketball analyst before taking over at UNLV this season.

Spoonhour has a 16-year Division I head coaching record of 319-171 (.651) and has led 11 teams to the postseason, including eight to the NCAA Tournament. Most recently, Spoonhour was the St. Louis head coach.

Spoonhour takes over a UNLV team that has struggled in recent years, and is arguably just as inexperienced as a Badger squad that has seen as many as four freshmen on the court at times in their first two exhibition games.

Missing from the UNLV lineup is all-Mountain West center Kaspars Kambala and guard Trevor Diggs, who both completed their careers last year.

UNLV returns just one full-time starter, point guard Lafonte Johnson, from a team that finished fourth in the Mountain West with a record of 16-13 last year. Their leading scorer, 6-foot-9 forward Dalron Johnson, also returns for his junior season after averaging 12.3 points per contest last year. With a young squad this season, he will be asked to provide the bulk of the scoring for the Rebels once again this year.

Las Vegas is the first stop on a three-week road trip for the young Badger team. After Saturday’s game in Las Vegas, the Badgers will travel to Hawaii for the Big Island Invitational Tournament Nov. 23-25,where they will play three games before heading to Atlanta to face a tough Georgia Tech team in the Big Ten ACC Challenge Nov. 28.

At this point in the season, the Badgers face one of the most difficult stretches of basketball they will see all season, but feel they are as ready as they can be after soundly beating their opponents and gaining much needed confidence in their two exhibition games.

“We’ve played good basketball, and the freshmen have been consistent so far,” said senior forward Charlie Wills. “This trip means that we are going to have to focus in a different environment. We will have looks that we’re not used to, and especially with so many freshmen on the road, it is going to be a mental game that teaches us a lot.”

After two games, the Badgers should have certainly gained confidence in their ability to score. In two games the Badgers have scored 95 and 82 points. Each of these totals is higher than any Badger score from last season.

“We are going into a tough situation with a group of guys that have gained some confidence here, and it’s not false confidence,” commented Ryan. “There are things we did well for a reason and things that we are going to work on when we play against better programs.”

Leading the way for the Badgers offensively has been freshmen guard Devin Harris. Harris shot 5-8 from the floor Tuesday against AIA for 19 points and contributed six assists with no turnovers. The true freshman also made three three-point field goals on a night that the Badgers made 11 total three-point attempts while shooting 50 percent from outside the arch.

Amazingly, each of the four UW freshmen that played against AIA each hit at least one three-point field goal in the game.

Coming into the season many thought that Kirk Penney would present the only offensive threat from the Badgers, but with nine players scoring and four players scoring in double figures Tuesday, the Badgers’ attack has looked very balanced.

Sustaining this balance will be key to UW’s success this season.

“I’m just trying to stay consistent in everything I do; there will be some good games and some bad games,” said Harris. “So far, there have only been good games.” If the balanced effort continues at UNLV, it should provide plenty of good looks for Penney and Harris against UNLV’s very inexperienced backcourt players.

Defensively, the Badgers must focus on stopping Dalron Johnson. The powerful forward led UNLV in scoring and also averaged 7.6 rebounds per game. Charlie Wills and an improved Dave Mader will have the responsibility of slowing down Johnson defensively and keeping Johnson and the undersized but athletic Rebel team off of the glass.

UNLV is coming off of recent years of scandal and problems with NCAA regulations and is widely regarded as a troubled program.

The Rebels were suspended from taking part in any postseason play last year and are currently in a three-year probationary period. UNLV is also breaking in its third head coach since the start of last season, something the Badgers can relate to.

However, Ryan and the Badgers won’t be taking the Rebels lightly.

“Charlie Spoonhour is one of the top coaches around. They’ll be ready; they’ve played well in their exhibition games,” said Ryan. “They will be a sound basketball team.”

So far this season, the Badgers have perhaps surpassed everyone’s expectations, save their own. Still, the questions remain: Were the Badgers that good last week? Or were their opponents just that bad?

However, there is no question that the Badgers will face a tough road test right out of the blocks Sunday at UNLV. Their play there may go a long way toward answering the question of what can really be expected from a young Badger team this season.

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