In start contrast to last season, the Badgers have typically gone deep to their bench this year. Heading into Wisconsin's contest with Marquette, nine players were averaging at least 10 minutes per game.
Saturday, though, the Badgers significantly shortened the bench, with all but 12 minutes shared among six players. Three reserves who have played consistently this season - center Andreas Helmigk, guard Clayton Hanson and forward Ray Nixon - played only intermittently against the Golden Eagles and combined for just one shot attempt, a missed three-pointer from Hanson, and three rebounds.
The Badgers' starting five - guards Devin Harris (36 minutes), Freddie Owens (33) and Boo Wade (29) and forwards Alando Tucker (31) and Mike Wilkinson (35) - and reserve forward Zach Morley (24) reaped the bulk of the playing time.
The nature of the game, with a postseason-level atmosphere and high-octane play on the court, likely contributed to the change, though Hanson, Nixon and Helmigk combined for 32 minutes in Wisconsin's 73-67 overtime loss to Maryland earlier this season. That contest, however, took place before Tucker's return to the starting lineup after missing the first five games of the season with a broken right foot.
Tucker scored a team-high 17 points Saturday and afterwards, in reference to the difference the forward makes on the court, point guard Harris said that "his presence on the floor makes the team a little more comfortable, kind of like a last year kind of a feel."
With Tucker back in the starting lineup, the Badgers substitution pattern also had a last year sort of feel.
As the game progressed, Wisconsin's legs seemed to be lagging a little, and not just those of Tucker, who admittedly is not quite in top game condition. The Badgers were notably short on some free throws and jump shots down the stretch, typically a sign of fatigue. Wisconsin, though, gutted it out and made the plays down the stretch to pull out the victory.