“I’m just trying to take some open shots,” Wilkinson said. “My shot feels really good. They gave me some open looks and I knocked them down, and it really starts in the post. Hopefully I keep getting those looks inside.”
Wilkinson rallied the Badgers early, draining three baskets — including one from downtown — to give Wisconsin a 12-0 lead through the first four-and-a-half minutes of play.
“You like to get off to a good start like that, but if you don’t, it doesn’t mean the end of the world,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. “We’ve had teams start on us like that and [we’ve] ended up fighting our way back in.”
On the strength of Green Bay forward Benito Flores’ inside presence, the Phoenix managed to briefly fight back, posting a 7-2 run to narrow the margin to seven. Guard Sharif Chambliss nailed a 3 on a feed from Wilkinson as Wisconsin bounced back to reclaim a double-digit lead. The Phoenix would never come within 10 points of the Badgers for the rest of the night.
“I don’t think tonight we were ever a serious threat to Wisconsin,” Green Bay head coach Tod Kowlaczyk said. “That bothers me. I thought we had an opportunity to come in here and be a threat to them. Why we started out 12-0 is something that I as a coach have to look at.”
Midway through the first half, the Phoenix offense started to feel the weight of the Badger press. For six-and-a-half minutes, the Phoenix went 0-7 from the field as Wisconsin piled up a 21-point lead.
“I think we’re starting to get into a better rhythm on defense,” Chambliss said. “If somebody gets beat up front, the big men are stepping up quickly to take charge, and the guards are still rotating to box out [opposing forwards].”
During the Green Bay drought, Wisconsin also struggled from the field, though the Badgers were able to get second-chance baskets due to a strong presence on the boards.
The Phoenix, already a considerably smaller group up front, suffered greatly when Flores, the team’s leading rebounder, got into early foul trouble. In the final minutes of the half, forwards Terry Evans and Josh Lawrence picked up some of the slack on the glass, but not before Wisconsin had built up a sizable margin.
“In spurts [we] looked good because [the Phoenix] were doing what we wanted,” Ryan said. “We kept building the fouls up on them and that’s the key. You can’t let a team come in and play that physical without making it be a foul. I thought our guys reacted well in getting the fouls up and getting certain guys in trouble.”
With the clock winding down in the half, Green Bay sharpshooter Matt Rhode rifled in two shots from the perimeter to drop the Wisconsin lead to 14 heading into halftime. Typically a staple of the Phoenix offense, averaging 11.8 points per game on the season, Rhode’s late surge proved a flash in the pan. He finished the night 2-for-7 from the field and never went to the line.
“Matt Rhode is the type of guy that needs to hunt his shots,” Kowalacyzk said. “He did a pretty good job of trying to find some looks tonight. Matt is a good player who will bounce back from this.”
For much of the first half, sophomore Alando Tucker struggled to fight through a Green Bay double team. After halftime, the Wisconsin swingman broke loose.
Fresh out of the tunnel, Tucker unleashed a brutal inside attack — registering nine of his 16 points for the game in just under two-and-a-half minutes of play. While driving the baseline, Tucker twice created 3-point opportunities by drawing a foul on the way to the hole. He converted on one of those opportunities.
“Our game plan was to double team [Tucker],” Kowalacyzk said. “In the first half, we did double team him, and I thought it was pretty effective — he turned it over a couple of times and didn’t get a whole lot of looks around the basket. I think our double team was a little bit late in the second half to start out with.”
After Tucker’s explosive opening performance, the game in the second half developed into a series of battles in the post. Center Andreas Helmigk stepped in off the bench to rip down six boards and tally nine points, several scored on the put-back.
“Andreas has been playing real well,” Wilkinson said. “For him it started on defense. It was physical inside tonight, and he did a good job of denying the ball in the post and forced some lobs that didn’t get through.”
In the final four minutes of the game, Green Bay rallied back to narrow the lead to 10 before the final buzzer sounded. Forward Terry Evans drained a 3-point shot with 2:59 left. Less than half a minute later, Evans stole the ball from Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor, drove to the hoop, missed and scored on his own put-back to narrow the Wisconsin lead to 13.
With 17 seconds remaining in the game, Wisconsin fan favorite Tanner Bronson made an appearance, covering Evans on the Phoenix’s final possession. UW-Green Bay guard Tyler Koenig drained a 3 to beat the buzzer as Wisconsin rolled to its third-straight victory.