In Saturday's 89-71 victory over UW-Milwaukee it seemed as though the Badger bench never ended. With every bench player seeing action and 40 points between four of them, Wisconsin put on display the depth the team lacked last season.
During the first half, the explosive play of junior forward Zach Morley led the way as the subs outscored the Panther bench 15-1. Morley has been seen as the sixth man throughout a majority of the season and today's game was no different. He got the call as the first man out early in the first half for senior guard Freddie Owens. Throughout the first half, he was hustling all over the court as he had a steal, an assist, eight points off of 4 for 7 shooting and four rebounds.
Morley gave Wisconsin a much needed intensity boost during the first half when the score was close. The Badgers were down early 11-9 but with back-to-back Morley lay-ups, Milwaukee never saw the lead again.
"The thing that Zach has been doing really well is he's come to play with so much energy and so much emotion every game," junior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "He hustles, you know he does a lot of the little things that some people don't notice but in the end they make a big difference in the result of the game."
The second half was much the same as the Badger bench outdid the Panthers 25-13. This time sophomore forward Alando Tucker led the bench power surge with his 12 points on 5 for 8 shooting. Tucker made his first five shots and contributed six rebounds.
After being sidelined for the first five games due to a foot injury, Tucker got to play in his first game all season against UW-Green Bay. During the first half against Milwaukee, it looked as though Tucker would be sitting again as he did not get a chance to step onto the court. According to Badger coach Bo Ryan, there were many things that contributed to him not playing until after halftime.
"I wanted to get him into the game," Ryan said. "(Sophomore forward Ray) Nixon had done a pretty good job. (Tucker) had sat for a long time and the thing that I'm concerned about is anytime there's an injury and guys are coming back, how long you're on the bench. I needed to have him in maybe a little sooner to have him feel comfortable…at halftime if you noticed he was loosening up pretty good to make sure he was ready to be the first sub in. I told him that, told the team that in the locker room and then he got in and he contributed. It wasn't any plan to not have him play at all but I'd rather be safe than sorry."
Besides Morley and Tucker, Nixon and junior guard Clayton Hanson were the other two bench players that received significant time. Nixon contribute a pair of three pointers, shot 3 for 3 from the field and tallied a career-high eight points. Hanson pitched in seven points and three assists.
Within a matter of weeks, and due in large part to the return of Tucker, the Wisconsin bench has gone from solid to extremely deep. With continued breakout play from the bench, the Badgers can look forward to keeping their team fresh as the Big Ten season quickly approaches.
"We've got such depth at every position and such versatile players," Wilkinson said. "I think that's something in the long run that's really going to help our team develop into the season and we can just keep putting players out there. The reason we don't loose anything is because we just pick up wherever we left off."