Conventional wisdom has it that Wisconsin's contest with UW-Green Bay should have been the easiest leg of its in-state gauntlet. If so, the Kohl Center is set for quite show when Milwaukee and Marquette come to visit in the next week and a half.
The Phoenix gave Wisconsin (5-1) all it asked for and more Wednesday night, fighting back from a 15-point halftime deficit to draw within six before succumbing to a 73-57 defeat.
Down 40-25 at halftime, Green Bay (2-4) quickly jumped into the flow, knocking down two three-point shots in the first minute and 40 seconds to make it 41-31. Just one minute, six seconds later, junior guard Javier Mendiburu drove to the lane and converted a three-point play to whittle Wisconsin's lead to seven points.
"We attacked more on offense, I thought that's why we came out and played so well in the second half," Green Bay coach Tod Kowalczyk said.
The Badgers flirted with pulling away on many occasion throughout the second half, but Green Bay answered until the games closing minutes.
With less than nine minutes left to play, Badger forward Mike Wilkinson hit one of two free throws to give Wisconsin a 58-48 advantage. Green Bay's Mendiburu answered with a driving bank shot and senior forward Mike King delivered a layup to make it 58-52 with 6:47 showing on the game clock.
After Matt Rohde hit a jumper to make it 62-54, Wilkinson caught a lob underneath from Harris and converted. Senior guard Freddie Owens kept Wisconsin's scoring string alive with a pair of free throws, then drove to the paint and shoveled a pass to Wilkinson cutting to the rim to cap a 10-2 run that gave the Badgers a 68-54 lead with one-minute, 16 seconds left.
Wisconsin played the final 11 minutes, 55 seconds of the first half without Harris after the junior point guard picked up his second foul. Harris had already hit two three-point shots and scored eight points when he left the game, but his teammates more than picked up the slack.
Owens led the way, pacing all scorers with 12 points in the first 20 minutes of play.
Boo Wade, though, stole the show. With Harris out, Wade accepted the bulk of the ball-handling duties for Wisconsin. Wade, normally content to blend into the Badgers' flow offensively, took control, particularly late in the first half.
With about six-and-a-half minutes to play before halftime, Wade dribbled hard behind his back then fired a pass inside to Wilkinson as he cut to the basket. Wilkinson converted the layup to give the Badgers a 27-17 lead. It was one of four assists for Wade in the first half.
Fighting the shot clock with a little more than two minutes left, Wade broke down Green Bay's defense off the dribble and made a layup to make it 36-25. Then, just before the halftime buzzer sounded, Wade did it again, driving to the rim for another layup to provide the 40-25 halftime lead.
"I thought Boo did a good job, especially on shot clock situations," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "Where the clock was getting down, he attacked the rim."
Wade also provided a spark with his defense, garnering three steals, one of which led to a fastbreak opportunity for Owens, who gathered an outlet pass from Wade near the post, spun to the hoop and converted to give Wisconsin an early 9-3 edge.
Score by half
Green Bay - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Brandon Morris (4-2-11), Terry Parker (3-3-9), Mike King (4-0-8), Javier Mendiburu (3-1-7), Matt Rohde (3-0-7), Kevin Hughes (3-0-6), Josh Lawrence (2-0-5), Tyler Koenig (1-0-2), Ryan Evanochko (1-0-2). Totals: 24-6-57.
Wisconsin - (Field goals-Free Throws-Points) - Devin Harris (6-3-18), Freddie Owens (5-5-10), Mike Wilkinson (5-2-12), Andreas Helmigk (3-0-6), Boo Wade (3-0-6), Zach Morley (3-0-6), Alando Tucker (1-2-5), Ray Nixon (1-0-2), Clayton Hanson (0-2-2). Totals: 27-14-73.
Three point goals - Green Bay 3 (Lawrence, Rohde, Morris), Wisconsin 5 (Harris 3, Owens, Tucker).
Rebounds - Green Bay 25 (Mendiburu 6), Wisconsin 28 (Morley 10).
Assists - Green Bay 11 (Mendiburu 4), Wisconsin 15 (Wade 5). Turnovers - Green Bay 17 (Mendiburu, Morris, Lawrence 4), Wisconsin 7 (Nixon 2).
Blocks - Green Bay 2 (Morris 2), Wisconsin 4 (Wilkinson 3). Steals - Green Bay 2 (Mendiburu, Morris), Wisconsin 10 (Wade 4). Fouls - Green Bay 22, Wisconsin 14.
Points - in the paint: Green Bay 28, Wisconsin 16 - Off turnovers: Green Bay 9, Wisconsin 11 - Fast break: Green Bay 4, Wisconsin 10 - Bench: Green Bay 23, Wisconsin 15 - Second chance: Green Bay 3, Wisconsin 8.