MADISON, Wis. - Heading into Wednesday night's game with UW-Green Bay, the Wisconsin Badgers had never lost at home to the Phoenix under head coach Bo Ryan. But through the first 15 minutes of play at the Kohl Center, it looked like that streak was in danger.
The Badgers started the game on a 1-for-10 shooting skid, but rallied to take the lead before halftime and closed out a 65-54 win over the Phoenix by shooting 56 percent from the floor for the rest of the game. Senior forward Ryan Evans lead the Badgers with 13 points in the game, but center Jared Berggren and freshman Sam Dekker each finished with 10 points as well.
As a whole the Badgers shot 47.1 percent from the floor, including a 38.5 percent mark from behind the arc. And while the Phoenix shot 40 percent to start the game, the Badgers clamped down on defense in the second half and held the Phoenix to just 37.5 percent shooting after halftime. Ryan said Green Bay played well in the first half, but he was glad his team was able to adjust to the Phoenix as the game progressed.
"There's a lot of learning that takes place in 40 minutes," Ryan said after the game. "There's a lot of teams that get better during the course of the game, and I think that's what our guys did. I thought through the course of the game we got ready, and read what they were doing a little bit better."
It was the second game in a row where the Badgers started the game in a shooting slump. Point guard Traevon Jackson had Wisconsin's only points of the game through the first three minutes of play, but the Badgers got a boost from George Marshall and Evans to keep them in the game.
Marshall converted both of his three-point attempts after coming off the bench, and Evans scored six points in a row, including two free throws, to cut Green Bay's lead to 21-20. Evans said that run in particular was crucial to getting the offense back on track, especially since he has struggled at the free throw line this season.
"I think that was pretty big," Evans said. "George came in and had two three-pointers right before that- I think that kind of sparked me. I think the crowd really got us going after I hit my free throws- they were really supportive."
The Badgers eventually took the lead on a 7-0 run to close out the half, and took advantage of a rough start to the second half by Green Bay. The Phoenix shot just 2-for-7 to start the second half, and the Badgers reached their high-water mark when they took a 16-point lead with just under 13 minutes to play in the game.
But the Badgers acknowledged they still have a lot of work to do before Big Ten play starts next month. The Badgers have struggled to rebound consistently in most of the games where they've struggled to put teams away, and they were out-rebounded by the Phoenix 35-32 Wednesday night.
However, Wisconsin made some improvements on Wednesday night as well. They turned the ball over just six times in the game, right on the heels of a 13-turnover game against Marquette.
"We're doing some good things, but I don't think we're doing them at a consistent-enough level," Berggren said. "We started flat tonight for whatever reason, I don't think it was an energy thing like that, we just weren't really executing."
"I think we're still making some of the same mistakes over and over which is a bit concerning. But I knew we were going to turn things around. It was just a matter of time before we got into a groove offensively."
The Badgers have a long layoff until their next game, which falls on Dec. 22 against UW-Milwaukee. The Badgers will use their time off to study for end of semester finals, and are hoping to get senior forward Mike Bruesewitz back from a concussion when they start to play again in a week and a half.
"I think [the break] really gives us a chance to regroup and get ready to push forward into the Big Ten season," Evans said. "It's not how you start; it's how you finish. This is a good break for us to regain that focus that we need and really get it done in the classroom."