Wisconsin closed its non-conference season Saturday with a 75-49 win over the College of Charleston (9-2 overall).
Junior point guard Devin Harris led all scorers with 19 points while reserve forward Zach Morley chipped in 18. Junior forward Mike Wilkinson had 15 points and a game-high eight rebounds for the Badgers, who moved to 9-2 and extended their home unbeaten streak to 20 games.
"We definitely have a bull's eye on our back, winning it the past two years, but we can't prepare for any other team any different way," Harris said. "We still know the things that we need to do in order to win tough, tight games."
The Badgers had their share of tough games in the non-conference season—their opponents to date carry a 72-46 record and all but two have winning marks. Wisconsin, though, has largely held serve, only losing in overtime at Maryland and a 71-56 decision at Alabama Tuesday.
Wisconsin bounced back from the loss to the Crimson Tide in emphatic fashion, outscoring the College of Charleston 21-6 in the final 10 minutes, 54 seconds of the first half to take a 36-20 halftime lead. The margin was no less than 15 in the second half, and expanded to as many as 27 points late in the game.
The Cougars, who owned a nine-game winning streak prior to Saturday, certainly came to play, however. Charleston's pressure defense flustered Wisconsin early, causing the Badgers to miss their first six shots. It was Wisconsin's defense that was the story, holding the Cougars to 31 percent shooting, including 7-for-27 in the first half.
"Knowing how Charleston plays, how they are coached, I thought that was a good game for us," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "As far as pressure defensively and the way they made us work away from the ball—that's as good of work as we're going to get from anybody in the country."
Of the Badgers' nine wins, only its 63-59 victory over Marquette Dec. 20 was a single-digit contest. The margins of victory forsake how challenging Wisconsin's Big Ten warm-up was. The team was 3-2 against 2003 NCAA tournament teams, including a win at Penn.
"I think there is enough situations for them to have been in, in Philly, in Maryland, in Alabama, in Ohio and then at home here against competition that was going to play us hard," Ryan said. "Every non-conference team we had in here was a good test. You can't go by how much you beat a team by one way or the other."
For instance, prior to a 26-point loss to Wisconsin, Detroit took Duke to the limit, giving up the lead for the first time with nine minutes to play before losing on the road by 11; Rutgers followed its 12-point loss to the Badgers with a five-game winning streak. Maryland and Alabama; by contrast, each lost games following wins over Wisconsin.
"As far as how hard a Detroit plays and how they play Duke and came in here and tried to establish that here and our guys didn't let that happen—I thought that was a great game for us," Ryan said.
And it is games like that, according to Ryan, that have prepared the Badgers for a run for a third-straight title.
"The opportunities were there to learn," he said. "They have their notebooks, they have all their stuff written when we break the tapes down. I think our players in the past have shown they've learned some things and then used them so that's what we're counting on right now."