The Wisconsin men’s basketball team was a one-man show at times last season, with Devin Harris carrying the team on his shoulders. With Harris gone, the Badgers expected to lean heavily on senior Mike Wilkinson and sophomore Alando Tucker.
However, in Wisconsin’s 77-44 victory over Penn Saturday night — though Wilkinson did lead the team with 19 points — it was role-players like Ray Nixon and Brian Butch who provided a crucial boost for the Badgers.
With Wisconsin up 22-11 in the first half, Nixon scored all eight of his points in helping the Badgers extend their lead to 31-15.
During the two-and-a-half-minute stretch, Nixon knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, collected a pair of rebounds, and he dished out an assist on the only bucket he didn’t score during the run.
“That’s pretty nice, anytime you get a guy to hit some shots like that,” head coach Bo Ryan said of Nixon after the game. “He did some nice things in the first half.”
The 6-foot-8 forward finished just a point off his career high of nine points, with a perfect 3-3 from the floor — including 2-2 from beyond the arc. According to the Milwaukee native, he was just doing his part.
“I was just trying to get in and give what I could give in the time I was in,” Nixon said. “Fortunately, my shot was falling in the first half.”
In the second half, it was Butch who asserted himself on the offensive end of the court, collecting eight of his 10 points after the intermission. After converting just one of his three shot attempts in the first half, Butch moved closer to the basket and showed off some impressive post moves.
“Brian got to the post and got some touches and got some results,” Ryan said. “That’s what we try and do all the time.”
The 6-foot-11 Appleton native also added four rebounds to his 10 points, but he gave all the credit to his teammates.
“That’s one thing that makes this team unique is that we all try and get balls in places where our strengths are,” Butch said.
Having Butch and Nixon step up and knock down a couple of shots opened things up for Wilkinson to score a game-high 19 points. With Penn really trying to force the ball away from Tucker and Wilkinson, the Badgers needed some other players to show that they could scored when needed.
“Mike’s an identified guy,” Ryan said. “Tucker’s an identified guy. If they’re not getting touches, somebody’s getting touches.”
“It’s important that we have other people step up,” Wilkinson said. “Everyone comes in and gives us good minutes and knocks down some shots when they get them, it helps everyone.”
Penn was forced to concentrate on everyone, leaving Wilkinson in better position to score some points of his own.
“In the second half, Penn had to start spreading it out and playing everyone individually,” Wilkinson said. “That opened it up for [Tucker and myself].”
Williams to redshirt: Following the game against Penn, Ryan confirmed that freshman guard DeAaron Williams is planning to take a redshirt this season. The 6-foot-4, Peoria, Ill., native sat out of Wisconsin’s two exhibition games while making his decision.
“It’s his decision,” Ryan said. “I always admire people for evaluating and discussing and talking to other people.”