On paper, the nonconference matchup between Wisconsin and Grambling State appeared to be a mismatch between the Badgers’ size and Tigers’ speed.
The Badgers boast five athletes 6-foot-8 or taller whereas the Tigers have just two. As the game played out, Wisconsin’s size did prevail, but it was that of the guards, rather than the UW forwards that really made the difference.
Wisconsin was especially successful against the Tigers when they had three guards — sophomore Jordan Taylor and seniors Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes — on the floor.
Hughes, Taylor and Bohannon — all 195-pound guards — stand at 6-foot, 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, respectively, which posed significant matchup problems throughout the game to the Tigers’ Donald Qualls (5-foot-7), Kevin Loyd (5-foot-9) and Ariece Perkins (5-foot-10).
“We’ve got four guards in the game, so it really doesn’t pose any problem,” Grambling State head coach Bobby Washington said of UW’s three-guard lineup. “They could just handle our little guys; they really could. We’re small. … Their size of course wore us down. They are the strongest guards physically, and even mentally that we’ve faced this year.”
Head coach Bo Ryan’s squad used its superior size and strength to control the guard-heavy game against Grambling State, outscoring the Tigers 34-16 in points in the paint. Many of those 34 points came as Hughes and Taylor slashed through the smaller Tiger defense.
Along with their size, Hughes and Taylor read the Tigers defense well throughout the game, which allowed the Badger guards to find holes and lanes to the basket.
“We’re a little bit bigger than them at the guard spot,” Taylor said. “I think we can match their quickness, I think we just used our size and strength. Also coach just saw some voids in the lane in their defense, and he made some adjustments in the huddle during timeouts and made it easier for us to get it in the paint.”
Hughes finished with a game-high 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the floor while also tying for a game-high seven rebounds. Taylor added 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting while dishing out five assists to zero turnovers and matching Hughes with seven rebounds.
Ryan attributed the guards’ high rebound totals to the Tigers’ poor shooting Saturday.
“Well when you shoot 29 percent, there are a lot of balls coming off the rim to where guards could get them,” Ryan said. “Our guys understand that everybody stays to rebound on the defensive end. We’re not looking to leave anybody. Our guards stay in to rebound.
“That doesn’t surprise me with the number of rebounds available in that game because maybe they weren’t shooting it that well.”
Beyond the physical attributes of the Wisconsin guards, they also showed a lot of focus and determination to follow up the big win over then-No. 6 Duke with an equally impressive performance, regardless of the abilities of their opponent.
Hughes, Taylor and Bohannon controlled the GSU guards throughout on the defensive end, limiting them to just 31 percent shooting from the field and 27.3 percent from 3-point range. Qualls led the way for Grambling State with 15 points on 4-for-8 from the field and 3-of-7 from beyond the arc.
Bohannon noted after the game it was important not to let up after the win over Duke.
“No matter who comes in or wherever we go, every team is capable of beating anyone,” he said. “They came in and they ran some good offense — they made us play a lot of defense. They ran the shot clock for 30-plus seconds on each and every possession.
When we’re on defense for that long, we pick up a lot of different things, and I think that helped us quite a bit tonight.”
One particular play that epitomized the effort shown Saturday by Wisconsin came late in the second half with under five minutes to play.
On a loose ball near midcourt, Hughes dove over the courtside media table, landing on top of a radio announcer in front of the first row of seats. Although Hughes stayed in the game, he was noticeably holding his side after the play.
“Just playing until the horn blows,” Hughes said of the play. “I just got a scratch, a little scratch.”