One of the benefits of having more than a week between games was it allowed the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team to focus on itself rather than an upcoming opponent.
“I saw some signs of improvement,” UW coach Greg Gard said. “They did a good job of carrying that improvement over to the game.”
That was true on both ends of the floor for the Badgers during their 81-60 victory over UW-Green Bay on Saturday evening at the Kohl Center.
Freshman guard Brad Davison led the way with 18 points for UW (6-7), which hadn’t played in nine days.
The Badgers needed a break after a stretch of 10 games in 28 days that included nine opponents ranked in the Top 100 of the Ken Pomeroy ratings. The stretch run of 2017 isn’t nearly as daunting, and it began with a game against a UW-Green Bay outfit that is struggling to replace eight of its top nine scorers from last season.
Junior center Ethan Happ added 14 points and junior forward Khalil Iverson had 12 to help the Badgers improve to 23-1 all-time vs. the Phoenix.
The game was decided in the paint, where the Badgers outscored Green Bay 46-14.
“That’s what we want to do is control the paint,” said UW freshman forward Nate Reuvers, who had nine points. “That’s Wisconsin basketball.”
Of those two numbers — 46 and 14 — Gard likely was more pleased with the latter figure.
The Badgers had allowed 46 points in the paint during an 81-80 victory over Western Kentucky last week, a performance that left the coaching staff disappointed with the team’s transition defense and its inability to stop dribble penetration.
Green Bay (5-8) prides itself on playing at a fast pace, but it managed only two fast-break points against the Badgers. And 25 minutes into the game, the Phoenix were stuck on four points in the paint.
Afterward, Gard went down a laundry list of areas on defense where he’s seen improvement from his team over the past week.
“I thought we were better in transition to begin with,” Gard said. “I thought we were better on the ball, in terms of stopping dribble penetration. I think our technique has gotten better. Our recognition of when to help and when not to help has gotten better.”
As for UW’s 46 points in the paint, most of that damage was done by Davison, Happ and Iverson. The trio combined for 36 points in that area and helped the Badgers shoot 67.6 percent (25-for-37) on 2-point shots.
“They really try to come out and deny and make your ball reversal or entries more difficult than normal and spread you out,” Gard said. “Eventually, you have to have people that make plays and play off the bounce a little bit.”
UW made its first 10 shots of the game to jump out to a 25-9 lead. Davison was in attack mode from the start, finishing at the rim three times during that opening stretch.
“Whenever you can get to the rim, it’s always a good thing,” Davison said. “So whether it was getting to the rim and scoring or getting to the rim to create for others was definitely in my mind-set today going into the game.”
Davison said the break from games was good for the Badgers, who have a chance to back to .500 on Wednesday when they host Chicago State (2-13).
“That’s our goal, just keep getting better every game, every practice,” Davison said. “The result will take care of itself.”