The No. 9 University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team began their 2016-17 campaign Friday night at the Kohl Center, taking down University of Central Arkansas 79-47.
The win comes a year after the Badgers lost their first game of the season at home to Western Illinois University, an anniversary the experienced squad was not too excited to relive.
Despite the 32-point win margin for the home team, UW did not necessarily pass the eye-test as a top-ten team. The Badgers tallied 11 turnovers and looked out-of-rhythm on offense for much of the game, but were able to collect themselves and separated from the Bears going into halftime.
“We’re working hard to develop a bench that we think is going to be a strength of ours, I think it already is,” UW head coach Greg Gard said. “Finding different combinations tonight I thought we were out of sorts, but got better as the game went on.”
While sloppy at times, the Badgers saw typical performances from much of their usual production as senior point guard Bronson Koenig and senior forward Nigel Hayes put up a combined 30 points. Despite returning the entire starting lineup from a year ago, the Badger faithful got a glimpse of several young stars in the making Friday, more specifically, freshman point guard D’Mitrik Trice.
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Trice played only six minutes in the first half, but went 2-2 from the floor and six points before coming in late in the second half to record 13 minutes on the night. The Ohio-native, younger brother of former Michigan State University point guard Travis Trice, ignited the crowd and left to a standing ovation for his small but impactful performance in what could be an indication of things to come.
“I thought he came in and did a great job, I’m proud of him,” Koenig said on Trice. “He made a few mistakes, he’s a freshman, but nothing you can’t clean up and I thought he did a good job of knocking down open shots.”
Trice’s fellow recruit, Alleem Ford, decided earlier this week that he would redshirt his freshman season with the team and learn behind the deep upperclassman lineup. Despite Ford’s absence, the young line on the bench looked very impressive and put up a combined to get every freshman at least a bucket in the match.
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In yet another characteristic defensive display, the Badgers were able to hold the Bears to less than 50 points and force 12 turnovers to make up for the mistakes on the offensive end.
The well-rounded showing from the Badgers bodes well for a team that isn’t known for putting up large margins-of-victories. Gard was impressed with the way the bench responded and is looking forward to develop an already deep squad going forward.
“One thing we talked about before the game, but also as we have gone through this preseason, is that we want to talk every opportunity we have to get better,” Gard said. “I thought as the game went on, we started to play smarter, better and more efficient. All in all, I’m pleased with their effort.”
Wisconsin will look to continue their play from Friday night in a hostile environment at No. 22 Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska on Nov. 15. The game tips at 7:30 p.m. and will air on Fox Sports 1.