MADISON- It took the entirety of regulation, but in the most Wisconsin way possible, the unranked Badgers beat a talented Western Kentucky team by a single point, 81-80, at the Kohl Center to improve to 5-7 on the season.
The difference came on a wild foul drawn by freshman do it all guard Brad Davison, who then calmly knocked down the first free throw and intentionally missed the second, leading to the one-point victory. In a highly intense game like this was, a lot more played into the victory, which was huge for Wisconsin, especially since losing two of the team’s top seven players for at least a month in the case of D’Mitrik Trice, and the season for Kobe King.
Ford, Pritzl come up big
Freshman wing Aleem Ford, who has started most of the season, and sophomore shooting guard Brevin Pritzl, who has returned to the starting lineup in the absence of Trice, stepped up in a big way Wednesday night against the Hilltoppers. Together, the young Badgers duo combined for 31 of the team’s 81 points, on a scorching 8/10 from long range.
This was certainly Ford’s best game thus far in his young career. The 6-8 freshman put up a career-high 14 points, on an unbelievable 4/5 from three-point land, and went 2/2 from the free throw line. In addition, Ford led the team in rebounds with five, added three assists, a steal and a block to add to his balanced performance for the versatile wing. In Trice and King’s absence, Wisconsin needs another wing scorer that can create for himself and others. Ford is well on his way of filling that role with such a game against a tough opponent, specifically while short-handed and the team in need of a strong, non-conference win.
While Ford also had the third best plus/minus on the team in Wednesday night’s victory, Brevin Pritzl led the Badgers with a +8 in that category. The sophomore guard also delivered one of his best performances when the team needed it most, tying for the team lead with 17 points, on an incredibly efficient 6/9 from the field, as well as 4/5 from beyond the arc. Pritzl’s shooting prowess is nothing new to Badger fans, as Nigel Hayes called Pritzl the best shooter that he had ever seen last year, and even Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury alluded to his shooting ability in the postgame press conference. People that know Pritzl also know that he is a confident kid, but has not always shown it out on the court during real competition. Again, with Trice and King out, and a heavy emphasis on Ethan Happ and now Brad Davison, Pritzl can’t be afraid to let it fly, especially when he is shooting like he did against the Hilltoppers.
Shortening of rotation
Even with two of Wisconsin’s top seven players out, head coach Greg Gard essentially played a seven-man rotation against Western Kentucky, and it worked very well. Andy Van Vliet, Alex Illikainen and Walt McGrory combined for five minutes, one point and one rebound, so although they played, that’s not enough time or production to be considered as part of the rotation, and none of them played near crunch time, either.
Gard went with the starters, plus TJ Schlundt and Nate Reuvers off the bench for 32 minutes combined, respectively. Schlundt, a redshirt junior walk-on from Oconomowoc, has always been a player that worked hard and looked good in practice, sometimes even practicing with the top unit, but never quite cracking the rotation. With the starting point guard and another rotation wing out for the Badgers, Schlundt is getting his opportunity, and is quietly making the most of it. Schlundt hit two threes for Wisconsin, grabbed three rebounds, and played pretty solid perimeter defense against Western Kentucky. Most importantly, though, Schlundt did not turn the ball over, and looked pretty comfortable out on the Kohl Center floor, even when he was in during crunch time.
McGrory will likely play spot minutes at point guard when Davison needs a quick break, and the four position is still somewhat of a revolving door for Wisconsin big men, but the seven-man rotation worked out for well for Gard and the Badgers Wednesday night. Obviously, it helped the team to its biggest win of the season, but also led to guys like Ford, Pritzl, and even Schlundt to have the time to get in rhythm out on the court, without being pulled to the bench so quickly, as well as creating some chemistry with teammates like Happ and Davison. With five of the top seven as consistent jumpshooters, plus Happ and the athletic Khalil Iverson as primarily post scorers, this lineup could prove to be dangerous against opponents, especially with the team finally getting some rest and practice together.