MADISON — The Wisconsin Badgers opened up the highly anticipated 2016-2017 season Friday night at the Kohl Center, hosting the Bears of Central Arkansas. After getting off to a slow start, the Badgers won the game, 79-47.
Zak Showalter hit an early three for the home team, and the season was quickly underway.
Aaron Weidenaar got things going for the Bears with an early three, plenty of which were attempted in the first half of this one. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ impressed early with a couple very pretty post moves, giving the Badgers a 13-3 lead about eight minutes into the first period.
Khalil Iverson was stout defensively for the Badgers in the first half with three blocks, as was true freshman D’Mitrik Trice. The freshman also made his presence known quickly for Wisconsin on the offensive end, stepping in and hitting two deep threes.
Coach Greg Gard and senior point guard Bronson Koenig had some nice praise for Trice after the game, as well as a few pointers.
“He really has a good feel for getting his teammates involved, he has a great understanding of the game,” Gard responded when asked about the freshman’s play. “I think that was the one thing I noticed, well before the threes went in. Obviously it’s good to see that type of positive reward happen for him, for doing good things, because his teammates have been recipients of his unselfishness at times too.”
Koenig added, “I thought he did very well. I was very proud of him. He came out there and he made a couple mistakes, but he’s a freshman. Leaving his feet on the pass and all that kind of stuff. It’s things you can easily clean up. I thought he did a great job of just being himself and being solid and knocking down open shots.”
After not scoring for over three minutes, the Badgers led 34-22 at the half, with Bronson Koenig leading all scorers with 7 points at the break.
The Badgers came out hot in the second half, going on an 11-0 run and extending their lead to 20, 45-25. The man leading the run was no surprise, Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Nigel Hayes. The 6-8 senior hit a bucket, finished an and-one play and made a deep three after looking to the bench at his teammates and laughing.
Gard was really testing out the depth of his rotation tonight. In the first 30 minutes, nine Badgers scored out of 10 that played.
The senior standout Koenig truly woke up late as well, hitting two threes in a row to extend the Badgers lead to 64-37.
Brevin Pritzl and Andy Van Vliet also made their debuts at just under 5:00 left in the game. The Badgers depth was the big story tonight, as their talent was just way too much for the Bears of Central Arkansas.
By the time the game went final, all 15 Badgers on the active roster had played. Coach Gard talked about the overall depth of the team after the game.
“Saw some good things tonight. You could tell it was our first game, obviously when we had some different lineups on the floor. Trying to use and develop a bench, that will hopefully be a strength of ours. I think it is already…I think we got better as the game went on too.”
Koenig was also asked about the depth of the team.
“We’re really deep, so we definitely weren’t tired. So I think with the athletes we have, we’re able to push the ball on any team and that’s something that I’m going to have to keep emphasizing in practice and in the huddles.”
“All in all, proud of how hard they played, and how they played together. They’re a really unique group of guys, and it’s fun to watch them grow,” Gard exclaimed as he finished his opening statement at his presser after a convincing second half.
Wisconsin faces off against top 25 opponent Creighton on Tuesday in Omaha at 7:30pm CT.