NORMAN, OK – With one month to go until the beginning of the Big Ten regular season, the first true road game was going to be an indicator of the work the University of Wisconsin still needs to do to prepare itself.
The simple answer: a lot.
On an afternoon the school saluted the Big 12 regular season champion football team, the Oklahoma basketball team showed its title worthy by pummeling an inexperienced Wisconsin squad from the beginning and cruising to a 65-48 victory.
Junior Nigel Hayes scored 20 points and had 11 rebounds for Wisconsin (4-3) but went 5-for-17 from the floor and has missed at least seven shots five times this season. Missed shots were the theme of the day for the Badgers, which shot 22.6 percent and saw junior Bronson Koenig go 3-for-18 (3-for-14 from 3-point range) and Vitto Brown go 3-for-15.
“We had an off-night shooting the ball,” said assistant head coach Lamont Paris, the understatement of the year. “There are no two ways to slice it. We just didn’t shoot the ball well.”
The 48 points were the fewest for Wisconsin since Dec.4, 2013. The only difference was the Badgers won that night, a 48-38 road win at Virginia, with their defense, while this one was over quickly because of the lack of stops.
“I thought our guys opened it very aggressively and made some shots and created a margin early that they played with pretty much throughout,” Oklahoma Coach Lon Kruger said. “... I thought our guys got a pretty good rhythm for what they were doing and helped each other defense and made a lot of good plays for each other.”
Senior Ryan Spangler scored 20 points and added 14 rebounds for the Sooners (4-0), who have all the makings of a team that could finally dethrone Kansas, which has won a share of 11 straight conference titles (seven of the last nine outright).
“I’ve been able to score down low my whole life,” Spangler said. “I got away from that a little bit, but that’s something I can do. I’ll show it more this year.”
It’s always been a habit for Wisconsin under Coach Bo Ryan, whether he has a veteran team or not, to schedule a handful of games against top-tier teams to prepare his program for conference play. And on a schedule littered with quality opponents, the Sooners were easily the best.
With three seniors and junior Buddy Hield, the conference’s preseason player of the year, Oklahoma returns 75 percent of its scoring, 69 percent of its rebounding and 83 percent of its assists from last season’s NCAA Sweet 16 squad.
A trendy pick to make a deep run in the N.C.A.A. tournament, Oklahoma is already labeled a great team, but the Badgers made them look even better in the first 20 minutes.
UW has struggled with its low post defense since the beginning of the season and were again exploited by the Sooners, who scored 14 points in the low post (outscoring UW 34-10 for the game) and dominated the glass early with three offensive rebounds on their first three possessions.
“That’s something we’re working on as a team, get tougher every day,” Spangler said. “(Sunday), we were better at it. That’s how we want to play. We want to out-rebound people, out-tough people. I think for the most part (Sunday) we did that better.”
Wisconsin kept Hield in check (12 points, 5-for-16) but rarely closed out on Spangler, who went 5-for-6 with 12 points in the first half. He made only two 3-pointers on five attempts through the first three games but hit a pair of wide-open looks during Oklahoma’s 15-0 run following UW’s early lead.
To make matters worse, UW looked lost offensively, spending more time standing and watching than attacking. UW shot 17.6 percent (6-for-34) in the first half, attempting 17 3-pointers and making only two 2-point buckets.
UW was so passive in its offense that the Badgers didn’t draw an Oklahoma foul until the 6:10 mark.
That changed in the second half, as UW started attacking the rim and limiting the 3-point shots. UW started the second half going 4-for7 from 2-point range, helping in part to cut the lead to nine with 16:01 remaining.
But Koenig committed turnovers on consecutive possessions shortly thereafter that led to four Oklahoma points. UW never threatened again.
“To keep them to 65 points on their home court, you feel on most nights that gives you a chance to win,” said Paris. “It’s hard to imagine you can play that poorly and still be right there. If we could have made a basket, we could have got in position where there is pressure is on them.”
The game wasn’t a total loss. Wisconsin out rebounded Oklahoma, 46-44, and held the Sooners to 42.3 percent shooting. Coming into the game Oklahoma was averaging 88.3 points per game.
“If you play defense reasonably well, you have a chance,” said Paris. “We would like to believe we’ll be a much better team and a more seasoned team by (Big Ten play)” because of these games.