Sluggish on screens and suffering too many breakdowns defensively, No.22 Wisconsin suffered a bitter learning lesson Wednesday by getting soundly beaten by No.10 Florida, 74-56, at the O'Connell Center.
Wisconsin (1-1) was dominant defensively last season with its scoring defense. The Badgers allowed only 53.2 points per game (first in the NCAA) and only let one team score 71. Florida (2-0) surpassed that mark by a red-hot hottest shooting exhibition.
The Gators won their 12 straight nonconference games at home by shooting 61.9 percent (26-for-42) overall, 50 percent (6-for-12) from three-point range and 80 percent (16-for-20) from the free-throw line.
"We got away from our defensive scouting report," said senior Jared Berggren, who led UW in points (11) and rebounds (6). "We don't have excuses, but it comes down to being more disciplined." Out rebounded 39-21, the Badgers allowed three different Florida players had at least seven rebounds. Wisconsin only had one player over three rebounds.
"I thought their experience really showed, especially how Young controlled the glass," said associate head coach Greg Gard, referring to junior Patric Young. "He ended up with only seven rebounds, but he was such a physical force in there with what he did."
Senior center Erik Murphy was the biggest weapon for the Gators, hitting all seven of his first-half shots and all 10 overall to finish with a career-high tying 24 points. It is tied for best single-game field goal percentage by a Gator over last 15 seasons (min. 10 made).
"When they got their chance," said UW coach Bo Ryan, "they didn't miss."
Senior guard Kenny Boynton – who led the team with 15.9 points per game last season – had just 10 points on 3-for-9 shooting, but had five points on the Gators' 7-0 run over the first 3:48 in the second half to extend the lead to 19 points.
"They are good for a reason," said Gard. "They have a lot of weapons. When one or two don't click, they have backup. For tonight, Murphy was the guy they went to."
At the first media timeout, Wisconsin was 0-for-6 overall, 0-5 from three-point range, on its first seven possessions, and unable to crack Florida's 2-3 zone defense. It was ugly foreshadowing.
"This was a great experience for our young guys," said Ryan. "We'll learn from it."
Last season Wisconsin held eight opponents to 43 points or less for an entire game. The Gators put that many on Wisconsin in the first half, shooting 75 percent (18-for-24) by taking advantage of nearly every open look and defensive mistake made by the visitors.
That led to Wisconsin doing plenty of substitutions and different combinations to try to find a spark. It worked initially – UW hit 7 of 8 shots after a 0-for-8 start to close the gap to 21-17 – but couldn't sustain it in a game it never led.
From the quicker pace Florida was playing to and the way it stretched the Badgers defensively because of its shooting and one-on-one coverage, it made for a long night.
"We're trying to find somebody to stop things defensively," said Gard. "There were times where we got too porous defensively."
Wisconsin got 11 points from Berggren and Sam Dekker. In addition to Dekker, fellow freshman Zak Showalter provided the biggest lift coming off the bench, fighting for loose balls and offensive rebounds.
"Zak made things happen right away as soon as he got in the game," said Gard. "That's how he plays in practice … I thought both those guys (Sam and Zak) did a really good job."
The key now is for Wisconsin to process what transpired. Wisconsin learned from a tough three-point defeat at No.5 North Carolina last November and came within one point of the Elite Eight. The Badgers will have little time to sulk, as it will play No.15 Creighton in Las Vegas next Friday, host defensive-minded Virginia at the end of the month and play at in-state rival Marquette in early December.
"It's disappointing right now," said Berggren, "but there is a lot to learn from and there is a lot of season to get better."