MADISON – When a horse bucks you, it’s best to get back on and ride again.
It’s an old adage that prove useful to the University of Wisconsin, which only had to wait two days before wiping the salty taste of Friday night’s clunker out of its mouth with a more vintage performance.
“One of the first thoughts that went through my head after (Friday) was, ‘Thank God we have got another game in two days to prove ourselves,’” said junior Zak Showalter, whose put-back dunk at the end of the first half was one of the highlights in No.17 Wisconsin’s 92-65 victory over Siena Sunday at the Kohl Center, a game part of the 2K Classic.
“Obviously that was pretty embarrassing, but we know what we’ve got and what we’re capable of. I think we responded pretty well.”
Junior point guard Bronson Koenig led the three Wisconsin players in double figures with a career-high 23 points, as the Badgers (1-1) shot 58.5 percent from the floor and found a better rhythm on both ends that was largely absent during the 69-67 loss to Western Illinois, the first defeat to open a season since 2001 and first to open a home schedule since 1997.
More importantly, the work the Badgers put in defensively was evident, especially down the stretch in the first half.
After Siena (0-2) made seven of its first 11 shots, creating a here-we-go-again vibe after they took a 16-13 lead in the game’s first 7:40, Wisconsin tightened up driving lanes and saw the shooting cool to 4 of 17 the remainder of the half.
It carried over into the second half with Wisconsin holding the visitors to 39.3 percent in both halves.
“Our coaches don’t sugarcoat anything, so they tell us what we need to do,” said Koenig. “I thought we had a great day of practice, defensively at least, and we came out with more energy.”
Wisconsin’s young roster – which added a third and fourth freshman to the rotation when Alex Illikainen made his collegiate debut in the first half and Brevin Pritzl late in the second half – fared better offensively, shooting better in overall percentage, 3-point percentage and free throw percentage thanks “veterans” Vitto Brown (16 points), Nigel Hayes (14), Koenig and Showalter (eight)
Koenig was active in the paint and the perimeter (hitting a team-high three 3-pointers); Hayes went 5-for-6 from the floor and had a team-best 4-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio and Brown broke Friday’s career-high of 11 points with a new benchmark and a team-high seven rebounds.
“I think overall I did a better job of slowing down and let the game come to me (than Friday),” said Brown.
Guard Nico Clareth came off the bench to score 21 points to lead the Saints, which became the first program to play the defending national champion and runner-up its first two games of the season since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 in 1985. No.5 Duke won 92-74 Friday.
“I sensed trouble brewing Friday night about two minutes after the loss here to Western Illinois,” said Siena coach Jimmy Patsos. “Bo Ryan’s teams are too good. They’re going to do that once a year, maybe.”
There are certainly still problems that need to correct. The Badgers have given up over 30 points in the paint in the first two games (34 Sunday), had 10 turnovers and committed 23 fouls in game two, leading to 27 free-throw attempts. But unlike Saturday, the Badgers will go into Monday’s film session with the taste of winning in their locker room as they prepare for North Dakota Tuesday - their third game in five days.
"We're going to have some nights where we look pretty doggone good,” said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan. "We're going to have some nights where it might are those guys impersonating Wisconsin basketball players? We might have a couple of those nights, but we've got to work through them. A lot more games to play."