MADISON, Wis. - The No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0) began the Cancun Challenge with a win over the Bowling Green Falcons (1-2) 88-64 on Thursday night at the Kohl Center.
The 16,807 fans in attendance, at what was the 250th Badger game at the Kohl Center, witnessed Bo Ryan's squad hold Bowling Green to just 28 points in the first half, tied for the fewest points BGSU has scored in a half all season, on 14-for-31 shooting. The Falcons finished the game shooting 28-for-63 (44.4 percent) from the field, including just 1-of-9 (11.1 percent) from three. While those statistics are better than the 69.75 points per game and 47.4 percent shooting the Badgers had allowed through the first four games, they still recognize that there is room for improvement.
"I definitely don't think we're happy at all with our defensive performance," redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser said. "64 points is still too much. They had too many points in the paint, too many uncontested layups, and just easy buckets that we're not accustomed to giving up. We're still working through some things, but it's still not where we want it to be."
Wisconsin was able to put up 44 points in the first 20 minutes thanks in large part to its three-point shooting. The Badgers were 7-of-13 (53.8 percent) from deep to start the game after coming into the game shooting 45.7 percent for the season.
When asked about whether his team is good at finding the open man and sharing the ball, Ryan agreed because, "The numbers will tell you that, and if you watch them play and practice, that's an area where we know it's a strength at this point."
The hot shooting continued in the second half and the Badgers finished the evening shooting 28-for-51 (54.9 percent) from the field and 12-for-20 (60 percent) from deep. Wisconsin is now 49-for-101 (48.5 percent) from three-point range through five games this season.
Unlike Tuesday night when Frank Kaminsky put up 43 points, tonight's scoring was carried out by the entire team. For the first time since Dec. 28, 1995 vs. Eastern Illinois, Wisconsin had six players in double figures with Ben Brust, 19, Sam Dekker, 14, Kaminsky, 14, Traevon Jackson, 13, Josh Gasser, 11, and Bronson Koenig, 10.
"Stats like these are when we're at our best," Gasser said of the team's balanced scoring. "When we have everyone contributing, everyone moving the ball, playing unselfishly and it's something we have to keep doing."
A balanced Wisconsin attack not only makes things easier for a team that likes to share the ball, to the tune of 14 assists on Thursday night, but it also makes the job of scouting more difficult for opponents.
"When [opponents] look at pregame scouting reports and they see six guys in double-figures," Dekker said, "they kind of have to approach this team in terms of 'who are we going to take away, and who are we going to focus on,' but there's always going to be two, three, four other guys that are going to be able to hit a big shot and make a play [for us]."
The 16-point cushion going into the half proved its worth as the Badgers had one of the sloppiest halves of basketball they have played in this young season. Eight turnovers could have spelled trouble for Wisconsin if they weren't so hot from three-point range.
Wisconsin hit 5-of-7 three pointers in the second half and five players combined to hit the 12 three-pointers the Badgers tallied in the game.
Bowling Green did, however, cut the Badgers' lead to 14 with just over nine minutes to play thanks to a full-court press that gave Wisconsin some trouble. Five of the Badgers' eight second-half turnovers came while trying to beat the Falcons' pressure.
"We kind of got rattled a little bit, had a couple of turnovers," Gasser said. "Definitely that press got us out of our rhythm, but at the same time it was late in the game so we were trying to make cuts and get to the free-throw line. We have to keep being strong with the ball and making good decisions on pressure because teams are going to pressure us all season long, especially in the Big Ten, so we have to keep getting better at that."
Wisconsin survived the full-court pressure and extended its lead up to as many as 24 points after that and was able to hold the Falcons without a field goal in the final 3:56.
Bowling Green's Spencer Parker finished the game with a career-high 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field.
As for Kaminsky, the 7-footer's 14 points dropped his scoring average from 17.3 to 16.6 points per game. The performance pleased Ryan for at least one reason: "at least he got an assist tonight."
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